Theatre Review: Memphis dazzles Columbus Audience
The setting is Memphis, Tennessee in the 1950’s, and local high school dropout, goofy kid, Huey Calhoun, just wants to spread his love for the rhythm and blues music of black performers to the rest of his town through the power of radio.
“Memphis,” based on Tony-winning book by Joe DiPietro and directed by Christopher Ashley, tells the story of Huey Calhoun, played by Bryan Fenkart, a 1950’s white DJ who is mesmerized by “race records” and dares to play them on the radio. After falling in love with black singer, Felicia Farrell, played by Felicia Boswell, Huey promises to make her a star, ultimately breaking barriers in a time of racial segregation.
Huey, based on Memphis DJ, Dewey Phillips, stumbles into the “black” club, Delrays and becomes immediately infatuated with Farrell’s voice. He then makes it a goal to get her music on the radio. And after a few unlucky times of being fired, finds his way onto a radio show and keeps his promise, and then some.
With lively choreography, sensational voices, comical one-liners, and a heartwarming storyline, Tony award-winning Broadway musical, “Memphis,” captivated everyone in attendance of opening night on Tuesday at the Ohio Theater.
The story captures the essence of the barricades and obstacles of life and racial issues in the ‘50s, but at the same time giving the audience numerous times for laughter with the humorous wisecracks and the silly, thoughtless ways of Huey.
However, the brilliant choreography, by Sergio Trujillo, and unforgettable vocals of the stars, drive the production.
Boswell demands your attention as soon as she steps on stage with her beauty and grace and her talent is made apparent the moment she belts her first note. Pure, musical brilliance pour from her mouth when singing each song. She shines on number, “Colored Woman,” as well as the entire show.
Fenkart, aside from also having a remarkable voice, is undeniably charming as the quirky, foolish character and has a real gift in comedy. The two show apparent chemistry and match each other’s style of acting, giving off a true sense of not only funny moments, but also dramatic performance.
In addition to the obvious talent of the star roles, the supporting actors were just as memorable.
Huey’s mother, Gladys, played by Julie Johnson, is amusing and priceless in her number “Change Don’t Come Easy.” Will Mann, as Bobby, surprises the audience with his performance of “Big Love,” on Huey’s first airing of his television show. However, Rhett George as Gator, the mute bartender who finds his voice during the stand out and mind-blowing performance of “Say a Prayer,” commands the spotlight during the scene that ends the first act.
Although the lyrics sometime lack the remembrance factor that the voices singing them provide and the story line at time seems to be pretty fast-paced, the energetic vibe of “Memphis” isn’t something you want to miss. And I would say that those in attendance on Tuesday would agree, considering the packed theater turnout and multiple standing ovations. The show proved to be a hit.
The entire production was witty, stimulating, and action packed, and I can confidently say I would spend money to see it again.
“Memphis” is playing at the Ohio Theatre at 39 E. State St, Tuesday, May 29 – Sunday, Jun. 3, 2012.
More information can be found online at www.capa.com.