The Million Dollar Quartet is joined by Santa for a 1950s rock ‘n roll blast

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By Bruce Chadwick



originally published: 19.11.2022

On December 4, 1956, music producer Sam Phillips, head of Sun Records in Memphis, invited singers Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins to his studio for a jam session. He recorded the session and played it to visitors for years. It was eventually turned into a Broadway musical, The Million Dollar Quartetin 2010. The smash musical has now pulled Santa from his sleigh and has become The Million Dollar Quartet Christmas. The play opened on Friday November 18 at Bucks County Playhouseacross the Delaware River from New Jersey to New Hope, Pennsylvania and will run through January 1, 2023.

I saw the original musical the week it premiered in New York way back when I and most critics didn’t see how a jam session could become a hit musical, but it definitely was. Now, with 1950’s tunes and some 2022 reindeer, it’s one of the big Christmas shows in the New Jersey area.

This is to the amazement, and not the amazement, of one of its stars, Jason Cohen, who plays the flamboyant Jerry Lee Lewis (Big Fire Balls).

“Here you are in a musical with four of the great singing stars of, well, a hundred years. You have some of the best songs of all time. What’s not to like? I think that the four of them are convincing in the piece, as in their career, with their movements and personalities as well as with their voices and songs. Think Jerry Lee with his head bobbing and those fingers pounding the piano keys with all his smash hits. Elvis with, well, everything. You mix all these guys and all this wonderful music and you have to have a good show,” he said.

He thinks the Christmas theme on this show at Bucks County Playhouse is a good idea. “Christmas is only three weeks after the date of the actual jam session on December 4th, so a Christmas version of the show fits right in with that. It’s not just a Christmas show.”

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“We have something for everyone,” said Cohen. “The framework of the show remains the same, but we’ve added a lot of holiday songs. People should enjoy it.”

As Jerry Lee Lewis, Cohen claims he feels right at home. “Jerry Lee was a singer from Louisiana and I am a Jew from Jersey. We’re a perfect match,” he laughed.

Ironically, Cohen wasn’t a Jerry Lee fan until he was signed to the show. “I knew everything about ‘Great Balls of Fire’ who wouldn’t, but not most of his other music. I knew how flashy he was, but I didn’t understand his wild attraction to people until the first rehearsal for the show.”

Jerry Lee Lewis passed away last week (October 28, 2022).

The Million Dollar Quartet is joined by Santa for some 1950s rock

“I was sad, like most Americans, but like her, I found him very heartwarming. He was from the past, all of our past, and, well, he made great shows for people,” he said. Kohen. “I, everyone in the music business, will carry the torch for him.”

Cohen was in a previous production of the regular show but never on the holiday show. “All new to me,” he said.

He loves the role.

“Here I am, what, about sixty years from the date of the jam session. I still feel like I’m very much like Lewis. He tried to combine the songs with the flash. I’ve sort of done that my whole life and tried to combine the two,” he said.

He stopped. “These guys were true giants of entertainment. They have great stories and in a way we tell them in this musical. I mean, they were HUGE.”

He thought for a moment. “They were all first too, Elvis and his swinging hips. Lewis and his piano. A pianist rock star? Anyone who has heard of such a thing. He was. Elvis worked his hips like they were their own machines. Ahh, that was brand new in the 50’s. Today we see it as completely normal, but today’s people copy these guys. The show is a tribute to them not just as singers, but as musical pioneers,” said Cohen.

The Million Dollar Quartet is joined by Santa for some 1950s rock

Cohen has a busy winter. He is currently working on a Jerry Lee Lewis show in Asbury Park (rehearsals) and will be in several other musicals over the next few months. He will continue to star Million Dollar Quartet shows the whole winter.

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He fondly remembers the show. “It’s been around in some city since it opened in New York almost all the time. I’ve become friends with many of the actors on the show and at least got to know who they all are. There are so many of us who act in so many places on the show that we call ourselves the “Million Dollar Quartet Mafia”. We are also growing in numbers.”

He also wonders about the fans – all of them.

“We have older fans who were contemporaries of these guys, but we also have a large number of fans who are now in their teens and twenties and know all of their music,” he said, a little amazed.

You could honestly say that the two songs they all really know are “Star Spangled Banner” and “Great Balls of Fire”.

The musical runs through January 1, 2023 at the Bucks County Playhouse (70 S. Main Street in New Hope, PA). Tickets are available online.

The Million Dollar Quartet is joined by Santa for some 1950s rock

PHOTOS BY Joan Marcus


Bruce Chadwick was an entertainment writer/critic for the New York Daily News for 23 years. He later worked as an arts and entertainment critic for the History News Network, a national online weekly magazine. Chadwick holds a PhD in History and Cultural Studies from Rutgers University. He has written 31 books on US history and has lectured on history and culture around the world. He is a history professor at New Jersey City University.


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