Desserts and Rock and Roll: A Mayfield Dinner Theatre Review

photo supplied by Mayfield Dinner Theatre

Million Dollar Quartet
Mayfield Dinner Theatre
until October 27, 2019

review by Aurora Frewin

Sam Phillips, known as the greatest producer of rock and roll, recorded his most famous  session with four great stars, creating an album dubbed Million Dollar Quartet.

Mayfield Dinner Theatre presents the Tony award nominated show Million Dollar Quartet (originally directed by Floyd Mutrux and based on a book written by Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott,), running from Tuesday, September 3 through Sunday, October 27. Here directed by Van Wilmott and assisting director Gerrad Everard, the show depicts the recording of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, as well as Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, on December 4, 1956 in Sun Record Studios in Memphis Tennessee.

Presley and Cash need no introduction. Jerry Lee Lewis is a pianist, now 84, known as “The Killer,” and some of his more famous songs include “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Great Balls of Fire.” Carl Perkins was an American singer known as the “King of Rockabilly,” as well as for his song “Blue Suede Shoes.”

photo supplied by Sam Burch

The dinner theatre is split into two parts: two hours for dining and two hours for watching the production. The doors opened at 5:30pm on Sunday, and I was both nervous because of the fancier setting, but also excited to watch a musical with old rock and roll hits. The space was filled with elegant dining tables and booths, giving off a semi-formal atmosphere. Some old rock music played in the background, but it didn’t clash with the setting or the colorful stage.

At the buffet, a variety of food was served: taco bars, seafood, a couple of salad bars, two AAA Roast Alberta Beef with Yorkshire Pudding stations, and more filled the small space. The dinner theatre caters to dietary restrictions—gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian, etc.—all written on cards in small print on the food label.

I filled my plate and sat to indulge in the flavours, and I was not impressed. My food went cold quickly, possibly due to the high air conditioning.  The medium-rare roast had no flavour, despite being juicy, and the gravy had some nice saltiness, but not much else. The potatoes had too much garlic and a few big unblended chunks. I tried a couple of items from my companion’s plate: a cheese ball I found to be over-flavoured with Sriracha, and the sweet heat chicken which had an overwhelming amount of maple. I did enjoy my glazed carrots, which were perfectly balanced between soft and crunchy, as well as the thin Yorkshire pudding—crunchy on the outside, but soft like a cloud on the inside.

Underwhelmed by dinner, I hoped dessert would be more appetizing, especially since they had my favourite cake—black forest, which also happened to be gluten free. I was pleasantly surprised with my desserts. The cake was spongy and light, and the subtle chocolate balanced out the sweetness and moisture of the cherries. Although the icing lacked a bit of flavour, and the edges of the little cake were slightly dried, I was happy with the small piece. Then came the rocky road square and I was in chocolatey heaven. The chocolate chips and the brownie were rich and seemed to melt in my mouth, while the nuts and oatmeal created a lovely balance to offset the sweetness, and the marshmallow added a lightness I enjoyed.

But I have to say, when the lights went down and I sipped my glass of smooth, bitter and slightly tangy Jackson-Triggs Merlot, I was blown away by the excitement of colours, sounds, and actors on the stage. I danced in my seat as the actors plucked the strings on their guitars or fingers flew across the piano that mesmerized me.

The most outstanding actor of the show for me was Jefferson McDonald, who played Jerry Lee Lewis. Not only was his piano playing astonishing, but he seemed to embody his whole role. He took every moment to stay in his crazy character, from the expressions he would pull, to the way he tinkled a few keys to annoy Carl Perkins and the others on stage. It was a hoot to watch him throughout the show, and I couldn’t wait to see what he would say next.

Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins, played by Devon Brayne and Tyler Check respectively, did well with their accents, singing and blocking, but I did not get the same sense of excitement that McDonald conveyed. The one character I didn’t find as strong until the end of the show was Elvis Presley, played by Matt Cage. Although Cage has “portrayed Elvis Presley in theatres, festival headlining shows, television and more,” his acting and accent didn’t seem as well executed as his dancing and singing. It wasn’t till the end of the show that I felt he made a comeback with his dance moves, singing, and his famous line “thank you very much.” I’m glad Cage ended the show strongly, but I would have liked to have felt that execution earlier.

The bassist Brother Jay, and Fluke the drummer, played by Evan Stewart and Brendan Lyons, were only minor characters but they were fun to watch in the background. They were always a part of the scene in some way—Carl Perkins calling out to the boys, or making it look like they were having a conversation in the background. There was constant movement, but none of it took away from the main action.

Elvis Presley’s girlfriend, Dyanne, played by Alicia Barban, had a great accent and her singing was phenomenal. When she sang “Fever,” shivers travelled down my spine and my mouth dropped open. Despite her strong voice, it never overpowered the boys and mixed well in group songs.

The actor for Sam Phillips, who takes the famous photo of the boys, played by Leon Willey, is full of life. He spoke clearly with a fun southern accent, his actions reflecting his outrage and amazement. It is a joy to see him interact with the other actors on stage.

The end of the show included four different songs—all done by a separate artist. I could not have asked for a better ending than to watch as Brother Jay stands on his bass to play, and Jerry Lee Lewis hops up and dances on the piano. While I sometimes feel shows get a standing ovation out of respect, I stood with the crowd out of pure enjoyment of the night.

Tickets range from $109 to $114 depending on the night and seating – and the price is worth it! Come on down to the Mayfield Dinner theatre to taste some sweet deserts and dance in your seat. And if you miss Million Dollar Quartet there are more rock shows on the way!

Mayfield Dinner Theatre
16615 109 Ave NW, Edmonton

Million Dollar Quartet runs Tuesday through Sunday until Sunday October 27.
The next show, celebrating the rock and roll of hte 50s and 60s, Class of ’63: A Rockin’ Reunion, opens on November 5, 2019

Left to right: Jefferson McDonald, Tyler Check, Matt Cage, and Devon Brayne
photo supplied by Mayfield Dinner Theatre