Theater Review: Memphis Deep in the Heart of Rock n Roll
July 26, 2012 - By Flavia Potenza
Every musical BroadwayLA brings to the Pantages is good. Sometimes the sets/story/stars are less than. Sometimes the hype is much more than. Never are the multi-talented cast members of the touring companies less than amazing.
Then, sometimes, everything comes together and life is transformed for those two hours or so. That is Memphis, a musical that rings true on every level and is here only for a limited engagement until August 12.
Beginning with the giant radio dial projected on the red velvet curtain as the audience assembles, you know you are about to enter another time, another era, when radio was king and rock and roll was about to be crowned.
When the curtain opens the radio-dial logo seques onto the broadcast booth where the current DJ is playing Perry Como and other soft-core pop tunes for the white audience.
Young, white, Huey Calhoun (Bryan Fenkart) is rural poor, illiterate, ADHD-ambitious and madly in love with rock and roll. He bulldogs his way into a local radio station and doesnt let go until the owner hires him as a DJ.
It is 1950s Memphis, Tennessee, in the smoky halls and segregated black clubs, where Huey wanders into an underground African-American rock and roll bar and falls in love with everything he shouldnt: rock and roll and an electrifying black singer, Felicia (Felicia Boswell).
When Quentin Earl Darrington, in the role of Felices brother, Delray, takes the stage, he takes your breath away as does the opening number, Underground, that almost received a standing ovation there and then. The audience is captivated.
I could say just go for the music, but this four-time, 2010 Tony Award-winning musical is the sum of its parts and recognition must go to Joe DiPietro for Best Book; David Bryan and DiPietro for Best Original Score; and Bryan and Daryl Waters, Bon Jovis founding member and keyboardist, for Best Orchestrations; and the outstanding cast members. This national tour features a brand new Tony-winning score with music by Waters and lyrics by Bryan and DiPietro (I Love You, Youre Perfect, Now Change).
Memphis is based on a concept by the late George W. George (My Dinner With Andre), whose Huey Calhoun may be a fictionalized version of the real-life, larger-than-life of the 50s DJ, Dewey Phillips, best known as "Daddy-O" Dewey, a Memphis radio legend who played black blues, R&B and, later, rockabilly for listeners of both races.
His gravestone reads: Daddy-O Dewey Phillips, The Heart of Rock and Roll.
Memphis plays Tuesday through Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., with a running time of two and a half hours, including intermission.
For tickets or more information: broadwayla.org; Pantages box office, (800) 982-2787, that opens daily at 10 a.m.; or memphisthemusical.com.