It might be hard for most of the population to remember those long forgotten days of the early 1950’s in America, when American apartheid was going strong. In our year, we listen to Lady Gaga; Kelly Clarkson and the likes of rappers such as Jay Z. Rock n’ Roll has been superseded by various beat styles, included the aforementioned rap. In the early 1950’s, that style of rock n’ roll was in its infancy, and it was born in a city named Memphis, Tennessee. And that style of African-American honky-tonk grew into American music today.
So we take a tour down to Beale Street in Memphis, where we find a Black honky-tonk club, featuring Felicia Farrell, an exquisite and talented singer. In those days—listen up—Blacks and Whites were segregated. They didn’t eat in the same restaurants; they didn’t go potty in the same bathrooms. They were beat up if they dated out of the race. They were lynched. They stayed by themselves. This was the way it was, and Blacks knew their place in White America.
Back to the club: in wanders a n’er-do-well white man named Huey Calhoun. Now in those days, white men did not just walk into a Black club—into a Black anything. But Huey is a bon vivant, who feels the soul of this Black music and wants to spread it around, where it will eventually become adopted by those white teenagers who don’t share the race bigotry of their parents.
Huey gets a job as a disc jockey to promote this new sound; he finds (forbidden) love with Felicia; they both get beaten up by racists; they promote this sound around America through that new medium of television…and…
You’ll have to see this innovative show to get the rest of the plot. Suffice it to say, it’s great to see a unique roadway show that isn’t a derivative of a television show, a movie or a retread of yesteryear’s hit It’s totally NEW!
If you’re old enough to know who Bon Jovi is, you might know of David Bryan, who is one of its founders. He wrote the melodic lyrics and music. This music is truly the joint!
Directed by Christopher Ashley, who is the Artistic Director La Jolla Playhouse, and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo (of “Jersey Boys” fame), this musical not only rocks with the beat, jives with the dance, and echoes off the walls, but also is seemless because of that exceptional direction. See you all at Tony time.
The actors? Take Chad Kimball (Huey), whose voice reminds one of the late Peter Allen. This white boy can “Do” the “do”! And, as Felicia, Montego Glover (of Broadway’s “The Color Purple”, is a rousing, talented actress. Put this (romantic—on stage) duo together and you’ve got the joint hoppin’. And we empathize and sympathize, and we tap our feet and we lift our voices and we remember.
Add the talents of Derrick Baskin (as Gator), J. Bernard Calloway (as Delray) and Jamers Monroe Iglehart (as Bobby) and you have one of the best ensembles in any Broadway show to debut in this year.
This is the tenth year of the new millennium, and, as stated, most theatre-goers won’t remember this time period of our history. But if you go to see MEMPHIS, you’ll learn; yes, baby, you’ll learn. And you’ll be-bop, and you’ll bounce, and you’ll appreciate—yes, appreciate—where we-all came from. And with the message of this hot new musical, you’ll appreciate how stars of today got their musical roots. And you’ll appreciate why we watch such shows as “American Idol”. Today we got the beat…but we got that beat from that town of MEMPHIS, in the early 1950’s.
Go to the show—it will knock your socks off. (That is just so trite!) The show will lift your spirits and you will leave the theatre humming, tapping, jiving.