Memphis (David Bryan, score; Joe DiPietro, book and lyrics) Broadway at the Kimmel, January 17- 22, 2011, Academy of Music, Review of Jan. 17 opening for WRTI, 90.1 fm.
People looked like they wanted to dance along with the energized cast of Memphis at the Academy of Music Tuesday night. David Bryan’s invigorating score sounds like it’s tuning into rock ‘n roll history though history’s been fiddled with in this musical. For the touring show, Bryan Fenkart plays Huey Calhoun, the white DJ who helped stop the segregation of black music in the Fifties’. The character is a composite for the actual (Deewey Phillips) who crossed the racial divide to Beale Street. Memphis’s music is also a fiction – David Bryan of Bon Jovi has done a good job suggesting rock ‘n roll of the time –Little Richard, the girl groups, Chuck Berry, but the Tony Award- winning music is circa 2009. Joe DiPietro, who wrote the book and lyrics, added a love story for Huey. Felicia Boswell plays Felicia the singer who catches the DJ’s heart and she’s a powerhouse, beautiful and smart. It’s hard to see how she would go for this wacky white guy with the bad accent though Huey’s rubbery limbs and silly antics could grow on you.
Felicia’s brother Delray (Quentin Darrington) plays the disapproving stoic in a voice that’s huge and glowing. Julie Johnson is a Huey’s fiesty Mama Gladys. There are few weak roles to Memphis’s large cast. The practically nonstop singing and dancing floods the house with optimism. More than need be given the ugliness of the racial barriers that also limn this story. Blacks and white weren’t allowed to be seen together in the South in those days let alone to marry. Yet when issues of race rear their head the musical too often veers sideways off into commercial song or dance. Still, Sergio Trujillo’s choreography makes you feel good and the cast is terrific with it. The musical direction is even better though the miking could have been toned down. Memphis is part of the Broadway at the Kimmel series.