It’s like the dream team of 1950s rock musicians. Lightning in a bottle. A once-in-a-lifetime recording session featuring Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and up-and-comer Jerry Lee Lewis, coming to life on stage at Tuacahn.
But what happens when lightning strikes twice? You’re about to find out as the cast from the 2018 production of Million Dollar Quartet returns to the indoor Hafen Theatre for another season of some of the greatest music ever written — performed by a cast that embodies the characters in a way you have to see to understand.
“There’s no ego, no drama. They’re all super professional and have done this show across the country.”
It’s been three years since they were all on stage together at Tuacahn. In many ways, with everything the world has been through, it feels like a lifetime. But when the guys — and one gal — in the cast of Million Dollar Quartet stepped back inside the Hafen Theatre again, it was like everything just snapped into place.
Kyli Rae, who has the distinction of being the sole female in this musical, says she could see how in some settings that could make for an awkward “boys club” kind of dynamic, but that is 100 percent not the case here.
“This is a dream team of guys to work with,” Rae says. “There’s no ego, no drama. They’re all super professional and have done this show across the country.”
Rae plays Dyanne, a character based loosely on a romantic interest of Elvis Presley. But in real life Rae, is the romantic interest of the man playing Sam Phillips: her husband, John Gardiner.
“This is actually our fifth show working together as a married couple,” Gardiner says.
Both Rae and Gardiner know it’s a unique opportunity to be cast in so many shows together. And they also know it’s not a dynamic that every married couple could handle.
“I guess we’re that weird anomaly,” Rae says with a laugh. “It just sort of works for us. But it’s not like we’re joined at the hip at work. We come in, sign in, and go to our separate dressing rooms. Still, it’s nice to have a scene partner up there that I’m so closely connected to.”
The couple, along with their 3-year-old son, was actually touring together on another show in Canada the day the world came screeching to a halt.
“We were in Toronto and did the show on Friday, then showed up the next day and they gave us plane tickets and told us to go home,” Gardiner says. “They weren’t sure if the U.S. would be closing its borders.”
That was March 14, 2020.
In the ensuing months, Gardiner and Rae moved in with Rae’s mother in a small town in rural Nevada. Rae taught dance classes. Gardiner trained and became a licensed stockbroker. It was a stopgap for which they were grateful, but happy to leave behind.
“I’ve been completely a numbers guy placing trades so, my God does it feel good to be back on stage!” Gardiner says.
It’s a common feeling of pure gratitude and joy among all the cast members as they each dusted off their dreams and jumped back into performing with both feet as soon as they had the chance.
No one more literally than Gabe Aronson, whose character Jerry Lee Lewis is known for actually jumping off the piano when things get really exciting on stage.
It’s a part of his character Aronson says he had to ease back into playing.
“For the last three years (since his last time attacking the ivories as Jerry Lee Lewis at Tuacahn) I haven’t been doing any jumping off of anything,” Aronson says. “But it’s amazing the difference I felt even two weeks ago compared to now.”
After tackling the role in nine different productions of MDQ, it’s not difficult to believe he can jump right back into it.
“The running joke is that every time I take the role it will be my last time,” Aronson says, “but I never get tired of it. It combines everything I love: acting, music, being wild. I can’t think of a better thing.”
“It’s such a good story. I love how it can teach people about that part of American music history…”
Coming back to the same cast as three years ago felt like coming home for everyone. And for some, like Isaac Ericksen, they really were coming home.
Hailing from a family with whose name is known in the local and regional music scene, Ericksen first met the cast of Million Dollar Quartet back in 2018 when he was playing in the pit orchestra for Tuacahn’s production of Matilda: The Musical.
“They asked me if I could fill in for the Brother Jay role for a few weeks,” Ericksen recalls. “I didn’t really know what the show was, but when I got in there, I knew all the songs.”
Ericksen grew up playing bass and was more than a little familiar with tunes by Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. In fact, it all felt so natural to Ericksen that when his time with the 2018 cast was up, he kept going with other MDQ productions in northern Utah.
“It’s such a good story. I love how it can teach people about that part of American music history,” Ericksen says.
Coming back as an official cast member this time around, Ericksen has been delighted to reunite with everyone who made him feel so welcome the first time around.
“I’ll never forget when I was here for the 2018 rehearsals and I was kind of nervous. Then all of a sudden I hear this deep voice saying, ‘that looks like an Ericksen,’’ Ericksen says. “It was Ben Hale. He is such a presence and made me feel super welcome.”
Hale had gotten to know Ericksen’s parents — Dick and Alice Ericksen — during some blues jam sessions while he was living in Ivins, Utah and studying at Dixie State College back in the day. Even though Ericksen was a toddler at the time, he says he and Hale are friends now and have performed together many times, including a recent stint at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City.
Ericksen’s role as the brother to Carl Perkins feels familiar in the sense that his own family has so much music tying them together. However, the similarity ends quite a bit short of Brother Jay and Carl Perkins’ reputations as rough and tumble fighters who were known not to take any guff from anybody.
“It’s never felt competitive with my siblings,” Ericksen says. “It’s just a way that we naturally come together and have each other’s backs.”
Similar to this MDQ cast.
“The Tuacahn cast are all excellent musicians,” says Ben Hale, who plays the role of Johnny Cash. “We communicate in a different way because of the musical language and all the rowdiness that goes into that.”
According to several cast members, it is Hale who brings some of that rowdiness, in a good way, in the form of humor that is reminiscent of Robin Williams in its physical nature and its anything-but-linear tangents.
“I get a little wiggly,” Hale says, laughing.
“And yet when he gets into character and becomes Johnny Cash, it’s the most stoic, grounded, one-step-at-a-time kind of thing,” Gardiner says.
Watching his cast mates transform, and narrating that transformation throughout the show, is one of the highlights for Gardiner as Sam Phillips.
“All these guys… you watch Kavan (Hashemian) go from this unassuming guy to Elvis!” Gardiner says. “He is so good. It’s like once he puts this mask on, so to speak, he knows how to carry himself as a star. It’s amazing.”
Even though Sam Phillips is not as iconic as Elvis or Johnny Cash, Gardiner says he is still a significant presence.
“He’d have to be in order to have the perseverance to wrangle all these huge personalities,” Gardiner says. “Plus, he’s got that southern charm. Guys like that could be ruthless businessmen but still be gentlemen. That’s why Sam is a great narrator. He brings all that charm and hospitality.”
And he’s ready to narrate a story you will not want to miss.
Get your tickets for Tuacahn’s Million Dollar Quartet online at