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  • MillionDollarMistake.jpgI was, shall we say, not exactly a fan of Million Dollar Quartet. It's not because I don't like the music—I like a lot of what Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis did. It's because I think the show makes these potentially interesting people really boring, so it can pursue its incredibly limited jukebox ambitions. But that's neither here nor there. What is relevant, however, are the show's costumes.

    What's that, you say, the costumes are the only thing worth mentioning? About that show, yes. Take a look at the two photos on the right. The one on the left is the original Million Dollar Quartet shot from 1956 showing (left to right) Lewis, Perkins, Presley, and Cash. On the right is a a production photo (by Joan Marcus) from the musical's Broadway production, showing the characters in the same order (played by Levi Kreis, Robert Britton Lyons, Eddie Clendening, and Lance Guest). There's a scene in which that photo is replicated, but I don't have a photo of it; you'll have to trust me that except for their positioning around the piano, this photo is an accurate representation of what the actors look like when that happens. It's not unfair to say that Million Dollar Quartet exists wholly and only to recreate that photo, in spirit, sound, and fact, and the climax of the show occurs when that photo drops down from the flies as the men recreate the pose onstage.

    But please notice: Every costume is wrong.

    Look at the photo. Lewis didn't wear a striped shirt. Perkins and Presley wore dark shirts. Cash didn't. The entire point of the show, which writers Colin Escott and director Eric Schaeffer build up to for an hour and a half, is this. And they, and costume designer Jane Greenwood, got it 100 percent wrong.

    To be clear here, there's nothing wrong with the costumes. They're colorful, they're period appropriate, and they're right for the characters, which is really all that should matter. But that photo changes things, because it interrupts the flow of believability the show otherwise strives to create. Nothing, as far as I know, forced the creators to show us the photo of the real guys. The plot doesn't require that a character (Sam Phillips, the head of Sun Records, nicely played by Hunter Foster) photograph them. Either of those elements being excised would have solved the problem, because the expectation of accuracy would not have been established. But when you establish it as if it does matter but then treat it as if it doesn't, you have a problem—and a sure way to raise my ire.

    This is, as I see it, the prevailing problem with musicals today: Too many of the people writing, directing, and producing them simply don't care enough about the artistic components of them to pay attention to the details that can—and should—make them great. This was something that was every bit as easy to get right as wrong.

    I also think that it shows a profound disrespect for not only the actual event, but also their own recreation of it and the audience they're exposing to it. Is it a big deal in the grand scheme of things? No, certainly not compared to some other things that have been written into recent plays and musicals. But it still should never have happened.

    Yes, I'm aware that you're supposed to look beyond individual moments like these and see the show as a whole. But a jigsaw puzzle with just a few pieces missing is an incomplete picture; a dam with just a couple of holes in it is useless, and a musical with just a couple of things that you're supposed to overlook for benefit of the creators' expediency is a disappointment.

    If you're designing or directing a show and not trying to unlock its mysteries and display its inner contents for the audience; if you're not trying to present the fullest, most vivid picture possible for the people who are watching; if you're not striving to get both the big picture and all the little pixels that constitute it correct... Then what are you doing? And why are you doing it?

    There are lots of ways to make money. But theatre is supposed to be about making something more. And, yes, sometimes one makes mistakes along the way—that's called being human. But when the mistake not only isn't fixed, but is called attention to, it moves from being just a mistake to an intentional disregard for accuracy. Shouldn't we be able to expect better from everyone creating theatre, even something like Million Dollar Quartet?

    Why are you looking all the way down here?
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