Tribute shows tend to be crashing bores, even the ones in Vegas that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce. Factor in a tribute show that includes Elvis and you're really asking for tired and trite.
That's what makes Broadway San Diego's Million Dollar Quartet, on stage at the Civic Theatre, Downtown, such a welcome surprise. The one-act jukebox musical featuring the pioneers of Memphis' Sun Records—Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Sun entrepreneur Sam Phillips—kicks rock 'n' roll butt from beginning to end. It helps that the actors are all musicians who play their own instruments throughout the show (guitarist James Barry as Perkins and pianist John Countryman as Lewis are especially noteworthy).
Million Dollar Quartet finds time in between musical performances to tell the story of Sun Records, Phillips and the legendary foursome who brought the little label unparalleled fame. But you're not whacked over the head with some long-winded history lesson. This show is mainly about the music, about "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Hound Dog," about "Folsom Prison Blues" and "Great Balls of Fire." Hearing these songs performed live—and, happily, loud—reminds you why rock 'n' roll will never die, and that should be enough even for younger theater-goers weaned on Arcade Fire or Bruno Mars.
Million Dollar Quartet runs through Sunday, Dec. 8.