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October 17, 2018

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Review: ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ is a million dollar night at Harrah’s


Erik Kabik/

Ben Hale, Martin Kaye, Felice Garcia, Tyler Hunter and Robert Lyons at the grand opening of “Million Dollar Quartet” at Harrah’s on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013.

'Million Dollar Quartet' Grand Opening at Harrah's

Robert Lyons, Carla Pellegrino, Martin Kaye, Marc Donovan, Felice Garcia, Tyler Hunter and Ben Hale at the grand opening of Launch slideshow »
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Martin Kaye at the grand opening of "Million Dollar Quartet" at Harrah's on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013.

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Robert Lyons at the grand opening of "Million Dollar Quartet" at Harrah's on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013.

The final 10 minutes of “Million Dollar Quartet,” which opened Tuesday night at Harrah’s, is the most exciting, enthusiastic and explosive ending to any show that’s played Las Vegas. In fact, the applauding audience stood the entire time shaking, grooving and if not dancing in the aisles certainly dancing at their seats. Isn’t that the ultimate standing ovation?

It was a jam session that rivaled if not beat the original in December 1956 when four music legends -- Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley -- got together with the grandfather of rock ’n’ roll, Sam Phillips, at the former auto-parts garage Sam turned into Sun Records.

The four actor-musicians do their namesakes proud, and Robert Lyons’ guitar work as Carl and Martin Kaye’s acrobatic antics at the piano as Jerry Lee leave one aching for the Golden Oldie days before hip-hop and electronic dance music. (Our Q+A with Robert was posted on Tuesday.)

It’s unfair to single out one performer, but I must give a rare rave to Martin, not because he hails from my old hometown of Manchester, England, but because his interpretation of Jerry Lee is electrifying. He should be made an honorary member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s as if he’s plugged into a socket that pumps mega-volts through his shaking system. “Great Balls of Fire” indeed as he plays piano upside down and backward!

Benjamin Hale, onetime the understudy for Raoul in “Phantom -- the Las Vegas Spectacular” at The Venetian, scores big as Johnny Cash, and it’s a voice so low, Trace Adkins would stoop to find it. Tyler Hunter’s performance as Elvis is masterful, and you’d swear, with closed eyes, you were listening to the original. Felice Garcia as Elvis’ girlfriend Dyane is one smoking-hot fevered singer in her own right. When she kicks up her heels draped over the piano, with Martin pounding the keys beneath her, it’s a magical moment.

Cirque du Soleil directors should’ve seen this show before they mounted “Viva Elvis” at Aria. This is tight and concise, and narrator Marc Donovan as Sam holds you under his spell with the storytelling from the immortal night, something the Colonel’s script in “Viva Elvis” never permitted.

This is a powerful, captivating story filled with showbiz insecurity, violated contracts, business intrigue, good and bad deals -- and the fireworks are woven together in a delicious million-dollar tale. Call it “Downtown Abbey” or “The Young and the Restless” of Memphis now on The Strip.

Onstage backup musicians Mikey Hachey and Jim Belk on bass and drums are platinum perfect in their roles. When Mikey’s bass becomes a ladder for Carl to jump up on as Jerry Lee leaps to the top of his piano, you know there’s a “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going’ On.” For people walking outside on the Strip, it’s the equivalent of a magnitude-3.5 earthquake in its own right every night.

In all, it’s 23 of the world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll hits as if they were the originals, but in person they are even better. “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Fever,” “Hound Dog” -- it’s impossible to stand still at a mic like Perry Como or Bing Crosby to sing ’em. That’s what Sam and Ed Sullivan understood and why Bible Belt preachers condemned them as the work of the devil.

The four jackets that come down from the ceiling for the finale are one outrageous fashion statement. I covet one! They’re the perfect uniform for EDC this summer at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Set up a merchandise booth fast.

Sensational singing, magnificent music, artful acting, stunning story: I’m hopeful that these incredibly talented performers are here at Harrah’s long enough for inflation to rise so they have to be renamed “Two Million Dollar Quartet.”

PREMIERE PARTY: In attendance for the premiere and after-party Tuesday at nearby Ruth’s Chris: Rita Rudner, Holly Madison, Claire Sinclair, Kevin Burke, Ricardo Laguna, Orel Hershiser, Jabbawockeez, “Fantasy,” Mac King, James Davis of Chippendales at The Rio and our “Top Chef Seattle” sensation Carla Pellegrino. Everyone loved the show. Check out our report of Holly’s fall on the red carpet in Wednesday’s Strip Scribbles.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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