"Everyone want[ed] to be black" on Tuesday Night at the Ohio Theatre as MEMPHIS came to town and literally tore down the house. From its onset, MEMPHIS was clearly a liberating celebration in every sense of the word. Its jumping and jiving, soulful, high energy rock-n-roll, powerful singing, and endearing story take you on a nonstop whirlwind from start to finish.
Inspired by a true story, 2010 Tony Award Winning Musical, MEMPHIS (with book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro), centers around white DJ, Huey Calhoun (played by Bryan Fenkart) who falls in love with rising star, Felicia Farrell (Felicia Boswell), while promoting black music on an all-white radio station. Passionate about the music and charmingly naive about racial tensions, Huey Calhoun pursues Ms. Farrell while helping her reach stardom amid a vastly segregated society in the 1950's. Both characters delve passionately into their careers, which takes twists and turns and detours along the way.
Bryan Fenkart plays a charming and passionate Huey Calhoun, who falls in love with Felicia Farrell during her rise to fame. Fenkart's big voice surprisingly takes you off guard compared to the boyish charm he infuses throughout his stellar performance. In "Memphis Lives in Me," Fenkart pours his heart into every lyric and we are truly inspired by his soulful, fiery angst.
Felicia Boswell plays an awe-inspiring Felicia Farrell, who is an absolute spot-on portrayal of her character. Her humble demeanor and huge voice is incredibly astounding as she captivates the audience with one big number after another. Her breakout song, "Someday" shows off her softer, soulful voice, while "Colored Woman," "Make Me Stronger," and "Stand Up" are an over-the-top, belting genius.
Supporting roles played by Quentin Earl Darrington (Delray), Julie Johnson (Mama), Will Mann (Bobby) and Rhett George (Gator) complete this stellar cast. In "Change Don't Come Easy," Johnson shows off her soulful chops and delivers an extraordinary performance, which alone, could inspire one to change the racial tensions in the south. Quentin Earl Darringon's "She's My Sister" is an inspirational tribute to his sister, while Will Mann's "Big Love" and Rhett George's "Say a Prayer" prove that talent is abundant in Memphis.
Energetic, original choreography by Sergio Trujillo once again captures the 50's movements with theatrical precision and flair and a nonstop enthusiasm. David Bryan's (keyboard player of Bon Jovi) music and lyrics recreates the rhythm and blues and early rock and gospel sounds effectively, and provides catchy tunes such as "Everybody Wants to Be Black on a Saturday Night." We quickly learn that "all rock-n-roll is is negro music sped up."
It's clear to see why MEMPHIS won the 2010 Tony for "Best Musical." With electrifying music and lyrics by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan, high-energy, enthusiastic choreography by Sergio Trujilo, and a brilliant cast, MEMPHIS is a propulsive, exhilarating musical that will inspire you to shout "HUCKADOO" as you jive out the door on a Saturday Night.
MEMPHIS continues through June 3 at the Ohio Theatre. Tickets start at $28 and can be purchased at the Ohio Theatre Ticket Office (39 E. State St.), all Ticketmaster outlets, and www.ticketmaster.com. To purchase by phone, please call (614) 469-0939 or (800) 745-3000. www.capa.com
Photo Credit: Paul Kolnik