To open its 60th season, the Maine State Music Theatre is presenting a lively celebration of a legendary 1956 recording session that included Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.

“Million Dollar Quartet,” which had its Broadway premiere in 2010, takes some liberties with the historical record. But, this Hunter Foster-directed production captures much of the spirit of a time when popular music was entering a new phase. All the music is performed live by actors who know their way around musical instruments as well as how to vocalize in ways resembling the originals. It all makes for a couple hours of toe-tapping, hand-clapping fun.

Sam Phillips (Jason Loughlin), the owner of Sun Records, a store-front operation in Memphis, Tennessee, steps up periodically in spotlit flashbacks to narrate how he developed Presley and the others, turning them from country boys with rough-hewn talents into polished performers. The dramatic tension in the show comes when the rising stars are drawn away to larger recording companies.

Essentially, though, this jukebox musical is about filling the air with a generous helping of greatest hits from one of the source-points of the simmering blend of rhythm and blues, gospel and country music that would come to be known as rock and roll. The African-American roots of much of the music are noted.

James Barry, as Carl Perkins, scores early with gritty renditions of “Matchbox” (covered by the early Beatles) and the swampy “Who Do You Love.” Though fine on the vocals, it’s really Barry’s excellent guitar work that sparks the show. His evocation of the electrifying sting of early rockabilly picking is impressive.

As a gentlemanly Johnny Cash, Scott Moreau captures the way the great singer could bring a rumble of emotion to his lower register on such tunes as “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk the Line.”

Ari McKay Wilford has the wide stance and curling lip of Elvis down and lets it all loose on the immortal “Hound Dog.” A bit of musicological history is illustrated at one point as Presley follows the advice of Phillips in pushing the limits of his early hit “That’s All Right.”

Brandyn Day is particularly effective at establishing the comically feral presence of Jerry Lee Lewis. He’s fully convincing as the “Real Wild Child” and is all over his piano as he sets the stage ablaze with “Great Balls of Fire” and the inevitable “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”

Brittany Danielle offers a period feminine perspective as Elvis’ girlfriend Dyanne. She vamps her way through heated renditions of “Fever” and “I Hear You Knocking” and also adds some dramatic force as she tries to keep the men’s rivalries in check. All join her for the spiritual “Peace in the Valley.”

Eric Scott Anthony and Zach Cossman provide a high-powered bass/drums backing combo at the rear of the recording studio set, and Loughlin offers a bit of harmonica to add to this spirited return to a magical musical moment.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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