The story behind the Broadway musical Memphis universal and timeless; ‘love conquers all’. Taking place in the 1950’s at rock’n’roll’s beginnings, DJ Huey Calhoun (Joey Elrose) is a good old southern boy who is quite a character and doesn’t conform to any mold. He has a passion for rock (with a spark of rebel) and an up-and-coming R&B black female singer Felicia Farrell (played by Jasmin Richardson). As with all good stories two fall in love against all odds in this segregated, bigoted time. Huey and Felicia not only find themselves fighting the establishment but also their families; in particular Huey’s close-minded mother, Mama (Pat Sibley) and Felicia’s club owning brother, Delray (RaMond Thomas). As their individual stars begin to climb ambition and the world outside threatens their love and makes them wonder if they can break down the walls society has built around them and rise to the top. The overwhelming message Memphis conveys is ‘love will stay when all else falls.’ We can only hope in life this rings true.
Memphis gives a good ole fashioned rock’n’roll kick from the start. The music’s energy and performances shoots through the Broward Center for the Performing Arts like bolts of lightning in a thunderstorm and are contagious. The original music written by Bon Jovi Keyboardist David Bryan and Joe DiPietro fit perfectly in the story and are memorable and fun. Though the vocal point of the story is about race, a touchy subject to say the least, the storytelling is done in such a way that is eye opening and thought provoking. For those of us who weren’t around in the segregated 1950’s and know the troubled times only though history books, Memphis brings the reality of the time live on a stage. Even with its musical content there are instances during the show that are uncomfortable to watch live on stage. That being said everyone especially children would benefit from seeing this show. To its credit Memphis is a reminder of our country’s past, how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go. I was impressed the way they treated the subject matter especially when it comes to interracial relationships. Many people aren’t aware that interracial marriage was against the law at one point; much like equal rights for gays to marry is now. A black and white person couldn’t walk down the street together without causing stares and possibly worse.
Joey Elrose is a kick as DJ Huey. His voice is outstanding, strong and mere presence on stage radiates a kind of enthusiastic innocence that is refreshing. What I mean by that is: he’s got the music in his soul and heart in the right place. He character rises above his upbringing trying to show everyone around him that we (the human race) no matter what color our skin are all the same inside. DJ Huey personifies the hold music can have on an individual and how it reaches and touches people. After all music is the only true universal language that crosses all ages, races, religions, and individual backgrounds. If love can truly conquer all than it is on the wings of music that it flies. Jasmin Richardson is refreshing and a showstopper. Her voice is a wonder and cries with strength and conviction all the while emanating a vulnerability and sensuality that is warm and touching. Jerrial T. Young as Bobby (a janitor at the radio station) is a scene stealer. His dance moves alone are priceless and song “Big Love,” raised the roof with a giggle and smile. With playful lyrics as “Call me Big Daddy ’cause Big Daddy got big love!” you know from the start this ‘big’ guy is going to be a character full of zest, fun and good times. I can’t do a summersault, splits or high kicks. Jerrial delivers on all counts and has it all going on.
Surprisingly it is Huey’s mother, Mama (Pat Sibley) who steals a huge moment in the second act with the song “Change Don’t Come Easy.” Just when you thought this Southern Belle’s mind can’t be changed or soul can’t be saved; watch out! After attending a local black Baptist church for the first time GOD put the spirit in her with so much sweet vim and vigor that a rousing ovation was in order. She even won over Felicia’s brother Delray in changing his way of thinking. It was a truly inspirational moment of the show.
Adam Arian direction (originally by Christopher Ashley) is seamless as he showcases the performers rather than overshadow them. David Gallo’s set design is off the charts. He perfectly captured the seediness of the underground clubs in the 1950’s and then throws on an extra layer of grit. Even the DJ booth and the radio station appear run down and nothing more than a sound proof box. Sergio Trujillo re-creates his choreography in this production and costume design by Paul Tazewell is a perfect marriage for the Broadway stage.
Memphis, winner of four Tony Awards (including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book and Best Orchestrations) is one of the most inspiring musicals I have ever seen. It delivers heart, soul, compassion, understanding and rock’n’roll. You can’t get any better than that.