Book & Lyrics by Joe DiPietro
Directed by Christopher Ashley
Music Direction by Christopher Jahnke
Choreographed by Sergio Trujillo
At the Cadillac Palace Theatre, Chicago
High voltage music and dancing fuels thrilling 2010 Tony Award winning musical – Memphis
With a workable book (by Joe DiPietro) and a bouncy score by Bon Jov’s founding member David Bryan, Memphis becomes a thrilling and most entertaining high-energy Broadway musical in years! Memphis grabs us from the start with a high energy score of early rock rhythms, Memphis- style blues, toe-tapping R & B and soulful ballads as well as country style songs propel us through the story of how a young illiterate white cracker DJ want-a-be Huey Calhoun’s (the super-talented Bryan Fenkart) love for ‘Black music’ motivates him to make his passions public to all the folks of Memphis.
Set in a Beagle Street black basement blues club, we witness the smooth, haunting Memphis style blues music. When the goofy white guy, Huey barges into the club, he instantly becomes smitten by the beauty and talent of Felicia (Felicia Boswell), the clubs featured singer. It is 1951 and Memphis is strictly racially segregated but Huey is so passionate about rock/blues music and he is so racially blind that he just reaches for what he loves oblivious to society’s rules.
This original story has hints of Hairspray but set earlier in the biased West Tennessee, we witness the trauma that Huey and his black associates experience as Huey bravely pushes tolerance and social acceptance through the unifying power of new, toe-tapping music. Huey’s focus overcomes the apprehension of both the white media and the black musicians. Huey’s love for the black blues singer Felicia complicates events as Huey trail blazes desegregation with the universal power of music.
Huey’s cultural revolution place his personal career aspirations in conflict with his inter-racial love. We see his inability to compromise his color-bind loyalties as self-destructive. His sense of honor couldn’t allow him to do otherwise.
Memphis, the musical, features terrific choreography by Sergio Trujillo danced by a black and white troupe to perfection. The sexy and smoothy dances remind me of Bob Fosse as they breath-takingly enhance the terrific score. The energy of Memphis is infectious as we witness the positive inclusive effect of young people coming together through common shared music. Memphis also uses gospel music to influence the older whites like Huey’s mama (Julie Johnson) who nails the deeply emotional anthem “Change Don’t Come Easy.”
Memphis dramatically depicts the early struggles toward racial equality that manifests itself through music. We love Huey and we understand the torments Felicia feels as she struggles toward fame and fortune. This is both a fun and a heartwarming feel-good musical with a fine original score in the spirit of the early rockers and black blues artists. Memphis is a well produced and terrifically sung (especially by Felicia Boswell) show that still contains a pertinent social message about tolerance. Memphis’ energy and heart will leave you entertained and smiling. Hurry, Memphis is only in Chicago through December 4, 2011
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: November 23, 2011
At the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, Chicago, IL, call 312-977-1710, www.broadwayinchicago.com, tickets $37 – $95, Friday, Nov. 25 at 2 & 7:30 pm, Saturday, Nov. 26 at 2 & 8 pm, Sunday, Nov. 27 at 2 & 7:30 pm, Tuesday, Nov. 29 at 7:30 pm, Wednesday, Nov. 30 at 2 & 7:30 pm, Thursday, Dec. 1 at 7:30 pm, Friday, Dec. 2 at 8 pm, Saturday, Dec 3 at 2 & 8 pm, Sunday, Dec. 4 at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 25 minutes with intermission, through December 4, 2011