Eureka College's Student Magazine Since 1889

The Eureka College Pegasus

Eureka College's Student Magazine Since 1889

The Eureka College Pegasus

Eureka College's Student Magazine Since 1889

The Eureka College Pegasus

A Broadway Christmas Story in Peoria

Courtesy of MDQC

Over the winter break, the Million Dollar Quartet Christmas showed at the Civic Center in Peoria, bringing Christmas music classics to life in the styles of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. The musical is a retelling of an almost fabled recording session at Sun Record Studios in 1956, which all four artists had signed with during their careers.

The Million Dollar Quartet was the name given to the four great performers who took part in the recording of the album. It was a chance encounter where all four were brought together at the recording studio at the same time during the Christmas season, one might even say it was a Christmas miracle.

According to a recounting by Sun Records, the session began as a material-hashing session for Carl Perkins, who was already famous for his big hit, Blue Suede Shoes. He wanted to work on some new music, as well as rerecording other music, and even working on a cover of another already famous song.

At the time, then owner of Sun Records, Sam Phillips, brought in new up-and-coming artist Jerry Lee Lewis to play the keys to flesh out the sound of Perkins’ new music. Lewis would later move on to be one of rock’n’roll’s greatest foundational artists, with major hits like Great Balls of Fire.

During this recording session, already world-famous Elvis Presley dropped in for a surprise visit. As an ex-signee for Sun Records, he figured that a Christmas time visit back home to where he began was in order, and it happened to coincide perfectly with the recording session. After listening to playback from the recording, he decided to lend his own musical talent to the group.

With three great musicians riffing in the booth unprompted, Phillips decided to record this as well, to save the moment and have a souvenir of sorts for the men in the booth. And, of course, who could pass on a free recording session with Elvis?

When Johnny Cash actually arrived at Sun Records that day is up for some debate. According to his own recollection, he was the first person to have been there. What he was doing before the recording session started is also up for debate, as is his motivation for being there that day.

In the record, the group rehashed quite a few Christmas classics, giving audiences one of the greatest Christmas albums ever recorded.

The story of the Million Dollar Quartet Christmas showed at the Peoria Civic Center over the winter break.

Walking in, the audience was greeted by a stage recreation of a recording booth decorated to the nines for the Christmas season. As far as Broadway in Peoria expectations, the set was minimal and intimate, inviting the audience to settle in and really connect with the cast without having to keep up with changing backdrops and scenes.

All four artists, Garrett Forrestal (Jerry Lee Lewis), Kurt Jenkins (Carl Perkins), Bill Scott Sheets (Johnny Cash), and Alex Swindle (Elvis Presley), commanded the stage and brought these late greats to life once more. Each actor not only played their parts, but also played their instruments and did their own hard-hitting vocals.

In the show the characters switched between reenacting the events of the night and telling the story directly to the audience. The transitions made it really feel like a classic Christmas story, where the main character is also often the narrator, reminiscing about the past of a story that the audience knows is probably embellished but still magical, nonetheless.

Just like the real-life story, the piano was the centerpiece of the night, giving life and depth to the music in a way that the other instruments simply could not, at least not alone. The whole ensemble gave such a lively air, even with the sadder undertones of the reality of show business, especially for Presley. However, it felt almost as though everything outside the booth could not come in, and that the environment inside was the sanctity of family.

The show ended as the artists each said their goodbyes, both to each other and to the audience. The recording booth emptied one at a time and the lights turned out.

In one final burst of color and music, everyone returned to the stage for a special finale. High energy and sparkling suits dazzled the crowd one last time to leave everyone on a high note for the Christmas season.

This show was part of a bigger project to bring Broadway to Peoria. The American Theater Guild, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing theater to the new generation in small communities across the country, is responsible for bringing the show to Peoria.

They reached out to Eureka college with the hopes of spreading the word and sparking interest in the program, especially in the performing arts programs, a spokesperson for the nonprofit said. Their interest is part of the larger outreach efforts to kindle an interest in the arts in the younger generation.

If anyone is interested in seeing this show, any of the shows coming up in the 2024-2025 season, or even participating in production, the Broadway in Peoria website can provide more information.


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About the Contributor
Merik Flatt-Beer
Merik Flatt-Beer, Staff Contributor

Merik Flatt-Beer (East Peoria, IL) is a senior majoring in Psychology and Hispanic Studies. They have a special interest in regional culture, and feel very strongly about local policy, and workers and students rights. When they’re not writing or studying, they’re probably playing old Wii games.