On the anniversary of the day the actual Million Dollar Quartet meeting occurred in Memphis in 1956, Theatre Northwest was celebrating the same way Sun Records staff must have back in those halcyon days.
On Tuesday, TNW's artistic director Jack Grinhaus was surveying the golden talent bursting forth from his stage the way legendary rock 'n' roll impresario Sam Phillips must have been beaming about the gold records spinning on his platters during those first years of rock 'n' roll.
Grinhaus and TNW are closing in on an attendance record that looks certain to fall if current ticket sales continue for Million Dollar Quartet, the play that is a hit with local audiences like none other.
"Something about it hit a note with this audience," he said on the anniversary day. "The original record was set back in the days of Ted Price (founding artistic director) when he did All Shook Up, then Samantha (MacDonald, TNW's previous artistic director) did The Buddy Holly Story and broke that record. And now this one looks like it'll set a new mark and it is Million Dollar Quartet. There's a pattern here, and part of it is the ability of the play to cross all the diversities of background. Young, old, different ethnicities and different socio-economic backgrounds - everyone is coming and everyone is loving it."
They are coming more than once, in many cases. Grinhaus has never detected so many fans coming back for multiple viewings of a TNW play.
Another rare condition underway with Million Dollar Quartet is the camaraderie of the cast and crew. Grinhaus said it is common for the creative team to become quite close during the run of a play, sometimes making valued friends for life, but in this case the mood is particularly light and the bonds tightened by all the music involved. It must, he speculated, be somewhat how it was when these four stars - Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Karl Perkins - got together to jam back on that December day in Memphis in 1956.
"I love that this company is having so much fun with it," he said. "You can tell, from the audience reactions, that this cast is having an unbelievable time together. That translates. Even during their off-times they are jamming, just playing songs and singing with each other. I've never seen an exchange of energy that is so palpable between a cast and an audience. You can literally see the exchange going on, and there is a very physical reason why: because in our theatre the audience is so close to the stage, the way our stage is configured with out seats. It's a closer relationship. When this play gets performed in a standard soft-seater, the physical arrangement is not as intimate."
The play is now on at TNW until
Dec. 20. It is not unprecedented for a play to be held over at the city's one and only professional theatre company, but if projections carry on according to pattern, none of them will have sold as many overall tickets as this one.
Following Million Dollar Quartet, the next plays coming to the TNW stage this season include the Canadian classic heartwarming drama The Occupation Of Heather Rose (Feb. 7-24) and the lighthearted laugh-out-loud comedy Meet My Sister (Mar. 28-Apr. 17) which is a world premiere.
Those tickets are on sale now and represent solid local arts options for the Christmas stocking.