Now go, cat, go: Naples native Sam Sherwood plays Carl Perkins ("Blue Suede Shoes," "Matchbox") in the production in Rochester
Carl Perkins is surely the unsung hero of rock and roll.
He was there at the beginning, making music for Sam Phillips at Sun Records in Memphis, which also discovered the likes of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. But most casual music fans, if they know him at all, know him simply as the writer of "Blue Suede Shoes" — and even that feat was overshadowed when, after Perkins got in a car crash on the way to a TV appearance that was to be his big break, Elvis' version of the song caught fire.
Those of discriminating taste have always recognized Perkins' virtues — like those Fab Four characters, who recorded not one but two Perkins compositions on their "Beatles for Sale" album. And he's been recognized in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. Still, he's nowhere near the household name he could, or should be.
"His story is so — in a way it's a little bit sad and unfortunate," said Sam Sherwood, the Naples native who plays Perkins in the Geva Theatre Center production of "Million Dollar Quartet," which opened last week at the 75 Woodbury Blvd. venue in Rochester. The show, back at Geva by popular demand, is a fictionalized version of a real gathering on Dec. 4, 1956, an informal jam between Perkins, Presley, Cash and Lewis. The show features many of their big hits, the likes of "Great Balls of Fire," "Matchbox," "I Walk the Line" and "Hound Dog."
"Million Dollar Quartet" was last year's season closer for Geva — a complete sellout that was extended for an extra week, and whose popularity virtually demanded a return for a limited run. The new run began June 14 and continues through July 8, under the direction of Hunter Foster. The book is by Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott, based on an original concept by Mutrux — and inspired by the music of Carl, Elvis, Johnny and Jerry Lee. Taylor Gray, James Ludwig, Trent Rowland and Aaron Staebell reprise their roles as Lewis, Phillips, Presley and Fluke, respectively.
Sherwood wasn't in Geva's earlier run of the show, but he figures having been involved with the Riverside Theatre (Vero Beach, Florida) production of it — in which he understudied for the Perkins, Cash AND Presley parts — gave him an edge at auditions.
The show presents the four musicians — and Phillips, the man who brought out the best in them all — who, while rising stars, are at sometimes subtly different points in the trajectory of their lives and careers: Perkins, for instance, is overshadowed by his more charismatic counterparts, including the up-and-coming wild man Lewis; Presley's visiting the old studio (Phillips sold his contract to keep Sun afloat) after tanking in Vegas despite his rising fame (and, Sherwood notes, discomfort with major labels' demands and constraints on him); Phillips is seeing his role in these men's lives and careers slowly diminishing as they take flight.
As Sherwood puts it, "'Million-Dollar Quartet' and a lot of the shows that I've done are really plays that happen to be about music — unlike musicals, where you spontaneously burst into song." They've included shows based on Buddy Holly, Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams and more — even a developmental lab of a new Broadway musical based on the Bobbie Gentry/Reba McEntire song "Fancy."
A 2005 Naples Central School grad, Sherwood has been drawn to the stage from childhood — not surprising as his grandparents George and Mary Sherwood founded the then Bristol Valley Playhouse (now Bristol Valley Theater), and his parents Julie and Will Sherwood also have been heavily involved in theater here and elsewhere.
"I had a lot of time backstage and being around theater people — it felt like a natural thing, to be starting on that path," Sherwood said.
He keeps his hand in both acting and music — with many gigs like this one encompassing both. He's done some Bristol Valley spring concerts with local musician Aaron Lipp, while in New York City he and others have put together a bluegrass band called the Playbillies, who've been known to work arrangements of Broadway songs into their set.
"Million Dollar Quartet" runs at Geva from June 14 through July 8. Upcoming performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. On July 1, the 2 p.m. show is audio-described and the 7 p.m. show is opened-captioned; the July 5 show is ASL interpreted. Tickets start at $34. Check gevatheatre.org or call 585-232-GEVA for tickets or details.
So you're into the live music, eh? You're generally in luck just about any weekend around these parts, but this weekend's particularly packed with feasts for the ears. In addition to the club, brewery, coffeehouse and other shows featured in the Local Live Music calendar at mpnnow.com, here are some more note-able happenings:
• The CMAC season gets underway Saturday, June 23, with a classic-rock double bill featuring boogie-blues-rockers ZZ Top and Creedence Clearwater Revival leader and singer John Fogerty on their "Blues & Bayous" tour. Country-rock singer-songwriter Ryan Kinder opens the show. Thus begin the summer concerts at Constellation Brands-Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center on the Finger Lakes Community College campus, which will feature country (Keith Urban, Alan Jackson), modern rock (Arctic Monkeys), R&B (Earth Wind and Fire), keyboards (The Piano Guys) and good-vibrations rock-'n'-roll (The Beach Boys), plus more. (Next up: Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, a CMAC favorite, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 26). The concert starts at 7 p.m., with the gates open at 5:30 p.m. Ticket prices inside the CMAC amphitheatre "shell" range from $45 to $85; lawn seating is $35 (or $30 advance). CMAC is at 3355 Marvin Sands Drive in Hopewell.
• Drumstock — a free, all-ages music festival behind Lake Drum Brewing in downtown Geneva, features a lineup of nine bands from 2 to 11 p.m. The lineup features Ghost Town Ramblers, Honky-Tonk Hinddoz, Blue Nebula, Dapper Dan, St. Raindance (St. Vith and Acid Raindance), Daddy Longleg's Homegrown Revival, Stargroove, The Infrared Radiation Orchestra, and Darwin.
• Nine days, more than 320 shows (97 of them free), 20 venues, more than 1,500 musicians. One metro area. It's time for the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival, which returns this Friday for year 17. It's nine days of music of all sorts (though leaning toward jazz in its various manifestations) and includes a lineup of headliners (some are sold out, like Boz Skaggs and Alison Krauss, but it's not too late for Seal, Jill Scott, Béla Fleck and the Flecktones or Lake Street Dive); a Club Pass series of $30/$35 shows (free with Club Pass); 97 free shows (including Brian Setzer's Rockabilly Riot!); nightly jam sessions at 10:30 p.m. in the Hyatt Regency Rochester; and youth jazz workshops June 25-29. There's way too much to say about this fest than room allows, so check out www.rochesterjazz.com for a schedule, lineup, ticket info and more details.
• Thursday is "Make Music Day" in downtown Canandaigua, a community version of a global movement, in which from noon to 8 p.m. musicians and performers will gather at the Commons Park on South Main Street to listen to and perform music. An open mic and recitals will precede a lineup of local musicians, including Meyer & McGuire (Frank Meyer also will lead a harmonica circle), Canandaigua Academy Jazz Ensemble, bucket drumming with Dave Mancina, Jessica Boss Collins & The Bosstones, and Twisted Banjo.