When he was cast in the role of Johnny Cash in the touring production of Million Dollar Quartet, Scott Moreau walked the line between historical accuracy and individual footprint in his portrayal of the iconic man in black. In the end, Moreau says he put his own ego as a performer aside and focused instead on delivering an honest representation of Cash in a way that diehard fans would truly appreciate.
THEATRE_MillionDollarQuartet-CodyRaySlaughterasElvis_4-14“I wouldn’t say I bring a whole lot of Scott to the show,” he says. “My feeling is, if I go see something like this, I don’t want to see someone getting up there that sort of sounds like Cash or sort or looks like Elvis. I want to see something closest to the real thing as possible.”
Million Dollar Quartet is presented April 22-27 in the Moran Theater at the Times-Union Center for the Arts as part of the Artist Series’ Broadway in Jacksonville. The musical production turns back the clock to December 4, 1956, when Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash came together in what would become a historic jam session orchestrated by the “Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Sam Phillips, at Sun Record Studios in Memphis, TN.
It tells an irresistible tale of broken promises, secrets, betrayal, and celebrations with a soundtrack of timeless classics from the era including ‘Blue Suede Shoes,’ ‘Fever,’ ‘Great Balls of Fire,’ ‘I Walk the Line,’ ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,’ ‘Who Do You Love?,’ ‘Folsom Prison Blues,’ ‘Hound Dog’, and more. The show takes audiences behind the scenes of the recording studio when four major talents came together for one unforgettable night.
“That moment can never happen again,” Moreau says. “Just to have these four burgeoning stars in the same room and not have to worry about publicity or ego or any of that. It was just four dudes sitting around playing with no agenda. I think it would be really hard to have anything like that happen again, looking back at the accomplishments of all four of those artists. They were all in that room at the same time playing music just because they loved it.”
To inhabit the role of Johnny Cash, Moreau says he didn’t have to go through a painstaking process to research his character. He went in with an innate understanding of all of his character’s nuances and motivations because of his personal connection to Cash, which he traces back to his early acting days. Moreau was working at a record store doing summer stock to make ends meet when a friend suggested he give Cash’s newest record a listen.
“I wasn’t into it because I’m not about country music. I liked some of his older stuff, like ‘Folsom Prison Blues,’ but it was really, really good. I went back and bought everything I could. I was very interested in his music, his story, and his time at Sun Records and Columbia Records,” he says. “I tried to take everything I’d learned and heard and seen and read, and put that into what I do on stage. We have over 50 years of music and history, and I only have 95 minutes to put that into the show. The more you know about somebody that was a living, breathing person, the more accurately you can portray them.”
As something of an authority on all things Johnny Cash, Moreau says he was interested to learn the whole story behind the fallout that occurred when Cash left Sun Studios for Columbia Records, leaving owner Sam Phillips feeling betrayed. Cash longed for the freedom that the larger label offered to record gospel music, but when he was subsequently dropped by Columbia, Cash realized that Phillips had actually provided that same creative space.
“At the end of his career at Sun Studios, Cash had already decided to go to Columbia Records without really telling him, and there were definitely some hurt feelings. In the show it happens earlier than it did in history,” Moreau says. “Our show has to take certain dramatic liberties. What actually happens in our show is a little more dramatic than it was that night. In fact, we kind of tell a bit of the back story and the forward story. The show takes place in one day, but a lot of the drama and things that happened were over the course of about 18 months.”
When the production rolled into Memphis last year, Moreau did what any super-fan would do: he made the pilgrimage to Sun Studios and cut his own Cash tribute album. “I stood in the spot that he stood in to record. We streaked the tape like they would have in the 50s. No pro tools, no digital enhancements. It was pretty life-changing,” he says. “Just like being able to stand up there every night and pay tribute to him, it’s a labor of love and a challenge. I don’t know if I’m perfect at it, but what I hope is that there is at least one Johnny Cash fan in that audience who says ‘wow, he did a great job’.”

About Liza Mitchell