Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Great Balls of Fire
Jason Cohen has played the role of Jerry Lee Lewis in the musical in more than 80 cities and he recently co-created a jam session musical revue of his own, entitled Great Balls of Fire, which focuses on the life of Lewis and features songs from Million Dollar Quartet and others made famous by the well-known men in that show, other Sun Records recording stars, and a few other artists of the period. It's a fantastic night of songs played by a talented quintet of musicians. The show has been performed by Cohen around the country, and Arizona Broadway Theatre is currently presenting it in a three-week run.
Cohen created Great Balls of Fire with Michael Schiralli, and there is just enough patter that Cohen interjects in between the songs to give a good background on Lewis, but not so much to get in the way of the steady stream of more than two dozen hits from the 1950s and '60s. Cohen said he remembers listening to the music of that period on a cassette player when he was growing up in New Jersey and his love for these songs is apparent in his skilled vocal delivery and exceptional piano playing.
Cohen mentions that the guys in the band have collectively been in dozens of productions of Million Dollar Quartet. By appearing in various productions, they have formed a brotherhood in which the many different musicians look out for each other and help each other find jobs. The quintet for this production includes Luke Darnell on guitar, Jon Rossi on drums, Justin Brown on brass and woodwinds, and Ben Sheppard on bass. They are all exceptional musicians.
The fun they are having is palpable. Cohen demonstrates some of Lewis' signature moves, as he jumps up in the air with his legs flying up high behind him, or plays the piano with his hands behind him, without ever missing a beat. Brown switches between numerous instruments, from saxophone to piccolo to flute to harmonica, showing how incredibly talented he is. Sheppard has a playful personality and a dry sense of humor that add humor to the show. He's also expert at playing the bass. Darnell has a soulful voice that shines on a few numbers, and his wonderful guitar and mandolin playing shine throughout. Rossi gets laughs on a few jokes and his steady drumbeat keeps everything on track.
While there isn't a single song in the show that isn't successful, some of my favorites include a haunting rendition of "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and a beautiful medley of gospel tunes played with guitars. There is also a fun medley of Mardi Gras songs that play into Lewis's Louisiana background and, of course, excellent renditions of several songs Lewis is most well-known for, including "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," "Shake, Rattle and Roll," and the title song. Other well-known songs include "Blue Suede Shoes," "Folsom City Blues," "You Send Me," and "Johnny B. Goode," and an encore medley of "Pretty Woman," "Peggy Sue," and "Burning Love."
Great Balls of Fire runs through March 13, 2022, at Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane, Peoria AZ. For tickets and information, please visit www.azbroadway.org or call 623-776-8400.