FOUR IN A MILLION
Legends live on at Segal
A miraculous moment of four stars aligning is about to take place on the Segal Centre stage.
In 1956, Elvis Presley — glowing from the success of his first hit, Heartbreak Hotel — dropped by the legendary Sun Studios with his girlfriend. Also present were Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, who all joined Presley in an impromptu jam session. It was to become musical history, captured the next morning on the front page of the Memphis Press-Scimitar under the headline Million Dollar Quartet, and recorded for posterity by sound engineer Cowboy Jack Clement.
That nobody thought to turn this momentous event into a Broadway show until 2010 is surprising. That Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott’s Tony Awardwinning Million Dollar Quartet turns out to be more than a jukebox musical is perhaps even more so.
For Sky Seals, who is playing the Johnny Cash part for the fourth time, the fact that the musical is mostly based on a true incident is a key to its success as bona fide drama.
“It works because it’s an actual event that happened all in one day,” the South Dakota-born performer explains. “Yeah, there’s some extra drama put in there, but it shows all stuff that really happened between these characters. For instance, Johnny Cash thinking about leaving Sam Phillips and Sun Records — he wouldn’t have been anywhere without them — to go to Columbia, that’s part of the dramatic tension of the show.”
A famous photograph of the jam session shows the incredibly youthful foursome gathered around a piano. Often cropped from the photo is Elvis’s girlfriend, Marilyn Evans. Despite being snipped out of this historical moment, Evans is restored to her rightful place in the stage version. Kind of. Making her musical theatre debut as Dyanne, rather than Marilyn, is Montrealer Sara Diamond, whom you may know as an anthem singer at Canadiens games.
“Marilyn Evans was actually a dancer, but they’ve changed it up a little,” says Diamond. “Now Elvis’s girlfriend is a singer, which helps make her more critical to what’s going on in Elvis’s life.”
As well as harmonizing on most of the songs — there are more than 20 in the show, with some licence taken to include post-1956 hits — Diamond has two main numbers, Fever and I Hear You Knocking. She’s also a much-needed female presence in this macho world of rock ’n’ roll.
“She’s kind of the quiet backbone, but she was raised to believe she can do anything,” Diamond explains. “She’s completely amazed to be with all these talented people. She holds her own and knows she can be a part of it. She’s one of the guys.”
“Dyanne’s a very necessary feminine energy in that room,” adds Seals. “Who knows what kind of conversations those boys would be having otherwise?”
Directing Million Dollar Quartet is Segal boss Lisa Rubin. It’s her first show since she debuted with Bad Jews last year. What also ties these two productions together is their lighting designer, Itai Erdal, who happens to have his own show opening in the Segal’s studio space at the end of the month.
First seen at Usine C in 2015, How to Disappear Completely is a one-man show that brings together the seemingly disparate subjects of the death of Erdal’s mother in Israel and his passion for lighting design, and does so with an unexpected sense of humour.
“Sixteen years ago, my mom was diagnosed with cancer,” Erdal explains during a phone conversation. “I wanted to spend every minute I had left with her, and so I flew back to Israel. I was in film school in Vancouver at the time, and she said: ‘Why don’t you make a documentary?’ So my way of dealing with this pretty horrible situation was to try to make something creative out of it. I ended up being a theatre maker and not a filmmaker, so used all of that footage to create this play. You get to meet my sister and my mother and my mother’s husband, and so on, but all on a screen.”
As Erdal began to put the show
together with director James Long and the Chop Theatre, he was encouraged to include more material about his métier.
Lighting design “became a metaphor for all of these things I could have never imagined,” he says, alluding to his demonstration of his favourite light, a par can, which gets warmer and warmer as it fades.
“When people see that, they think about the life going out of my mother, and they get very emotional,” he says. “But I never planned that. It was a happy accident.”
These days, Erdal calculates his light design as being about 70 per cent of his work, performance around 30 per cent.
“I’m not a trained actor,” he admits. “I couldn’t do Shakespeare. I can only do me. I’m very good at being me. Over the years I’ve tried to do less and less on stage, and I’ve gotten some very nice compliments from some of the best performers in Canada about being so chilled and relaxed.”
Another meeting of musical legends takes to the stage in the Segal’s 2017/18 season, which was announced on Thursday. The Angel and the Sparrow, which opens next April, depicts the friendship between Marlene Dietrich and Édith Piaf, covering around 20 songs along the way.
Kicking off the season, though, is the Segal’s already-announced contribution to Montreal’s 375th celebrations: a new musical adaptation of Roch Carrier’s short story The Hockey Sweater (Oct. 19 to Nov. 12).
Opening in the studio space during that show’s run is a reprise of Lisa Rubin’s impressive production of Joshua Harmon’s caustically funny family drama Bad Jews (Nov. 8 to 26), which played here last year.
Next up is Athol Fugard’s “Master Harold” … and the Boys (Jan. 21 to Feb. 11), in a production that played to great acclaim at last year’s Shaw Festival. First performed in 1982 (and initially banned in Fugard’s native South Africa), it tells the story of a young white man and his two black servants during the apartheid era.
Jordan Harrison’s Marjorie Prime, which plays from Feb. 25 to March 18, is that rare thing, a sci-fi stage drama. It’s the ingenious story of an octogenarian who is cared for by her handsome young companion, who just happens to be a hologram. It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2015.
The season ends on a particularly spectacular high note with William Gibson’s play Golda’s Balcony. A biodrama about Israel’s legendary prime minister Golda Meir, it set a record for the longest-running one-woman show in Broadway’s history. Reprising her Tony-nominated performance is Tovah Feldshuh, who may be mostly known to some readers as community leader Deanna Monroe in The Walking Dead.
Théâtre Jean-Duceppe announced on Wednesday that outgoing artistic director Michel Dumont will be succeeded by the co-directing team of David Laurin and Jean-Simon Traversy. The pair are familiar to Montreal audiences for their company LAB87, which has produced plays like Tribus, Yen and Constellations at La Licorne and elsewhere.
LAB87 will co-produce Duceppe’s first show in the 2017/18 season, Quand la pluie s’ arrêtera. The season will also include Michel Marc Bouchard’s Le chemin des Passes-dangereuses, a new play by Steve Galluccio and a translation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Full details are available at duceppe.com.
Million Dollar Quartet depicts the historic meeting of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, and gives Presley’s girlfriend, Marilyn Evans, her due. The musical opens at the Segal Centre on Sunday.