Some musical theatre simply entertains. Some productions inform. Some shows move you. MEMPHIS, at the Capital Theater as part of the Broadway Across America program, May 27th – June 1st, does ALL THREE, and does them very well!
The synopsis on their official website says, “Take a deep breath as the curtain rises, because the exuberance doesn’t stop!” and it holds true. The sensuous, emotional and inspiring Rhythm and Blues music dominates the production while telling an important story. Set in Memphis in the 1950’s, the show makes the “race card” relevant again … especially in this day (and state) of the battle for equality. Huey Calhoun (Joey Elrose) is a young, innocently color-blind white man who loves the music he hears coming from the underground clubs in downtown Memphis. Despite his being warned by his now deceased father to stay away from downtown and the “colored people and music” (the terms Colored, Negro and even Nigger are all used in this show, as it WAS the terminology of this racist time), he finally gets the nerve to go in to one of the clubs, where he is not kindly welcomed. Huey then falls in love with not only the music, but with the young black woman, Felicia (Jasmin Richardson) who is the singer at her brother, Delray’s (RaMond Thomas) club. Huey vows to “put her on the radio” and that all he wants in return–is a kiss.
As time and the show progress, smooth talking, energetic, endearing Huey works his way in to being a DJ on the local station “smack in the middle of the dial (“this is a White station.” “Well, I’m White!”) where he introduces “Race Music” to the white youth of Memphis. Ratings soar, records sell, and eventually Huey hosts the first Negro Music show on television. Moving and telling scenes occur when Huey has put speakers outside the studio so the white youth (not allowed to view or come to the show) can listen and dance, and the speakers are torn down and shots fired.
Later, a white mother tells her husband to “do something” about the music their daughter is listening to, and the father slaps the girl. Both Huey and Felicia later get a strong beating for being seen together, causing more fear in their relationship. Huey makes good on his promise to get Felicia on the radio and then on his TV show and gets his kiss, and eventually “more.”
I could go on and tell you all of the events that occur and how things progress, but you will see that when you see the show (and you SHOULD!)
Interestingly, both the Black people and the White people throughout the show often say they are “Good Christian People” (“Why do good Christians always annoy me?”), using that to justify their fear of becoming a part of the other’s world. Over the radio, Huey even invites the white youth to visit the “Colored Church” to witness for themselves the moving and amazing spiritual music, and the kind, loving people, causing his mother to say, “You sent innocent, white children to a Colored church?”
Technically, the show is brilliant … which is why it was a winner of four Tony Awards, including Best Musical and four more nominations. There was not a weak performance, from the leads to the ensemble. It was obvious that the actors had discovered their characters and never strayed from them as they performed or reacted to events. Each of the leads had at least one song to let their talents shine, causing many enthusiastic reactions from the enthralled audience, who jumped to their feet at the end of the show. The character of Bobby (Jerrial T. Young), who shows us that all shapes and ages can move and sing, is a Utah native who has joined the traveling tour, and rightfully so. Oyoyo Joi Bonner is a graduate of BYU and is one of multi-talented and totally involved ensemble.
The sets were simple, yet powerful in their portrayal of life in the times and situations. The show flowed smoothly from scene to scene with the help of performers moving the simple set pieces. The brilliant lighting design made each intimate scene intimate, yet the actors seemed to never be out of light or walk through shadows as they flowed from scene to scene. Costumes were perfectly in line with the period and demographics of the wearers. Sometimes period pieces have great individual outfits but the show doesn’t seem “designed,” however, these costumes all set the feel of each scene, while complementing each other and staying true to the personalities of the characters. Musically,whether you are a Rock and Roll, Rhythm and Blues and Gospel fan or not (“All rock and roll is Negro music sped up”), you will find yourself tapping your toes and enjoying the music while being able to clearly hear the stories and feeling the messages. I personally mourn the loss of live orchestra in theatre, and the requisite goose bumps appeared when the live music began. The small “orchestra” is on stage throughout the show and lit appropriately to show how important the music and the talent are to the story.
On a personal note, I have to mention the “lessons” learned and how they resonate even today. LOVE IS LOVE, we are all beautiful and talented in our own ways, hate and bigotry are taught and learned emotions and attitudes and we can all make beautiful music together. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the Utah audience members would walk out due to the story, sensual dancing and costumes, and lessons on stage, yet was happy to see there were not many. I also felt, during and after the show that unfortunately, the people who really need to see this won’t.
Find the time to see this short run of a show (only here for one week!) You WILL be entertained, informed and moved.
Memphis — Salt Lake City
May 27–Jun 1, 2014
Call 800.259.5840 to speak with a Ticketing associate. $32.50-$55.00