On this cool November evening I am sitting waiting to watch a musical about a time when things were, well, black and white. What makes this evening even stranger, at this moment our country is, in a sense, looking at things black and white as we select who our president will be for the next four years. Why do these have a common interest? Life imitates art in strange ways. But for our purposes now, I turn to the stage, and a time when music was passion and the soul epitome of ones sense of worth, “Memphis” has come to sing its heart out.
1950’s America was split, due to segregation in effect throughout many states in the south. It was a ‘black and white’ world for many and no one wanted to cross the line, well except one man. Huey stepped across because he saw or heard in his heart and soul what meant the world to him, music. The music sung from the sweet soul of Felicia, whose voice wrapped around Huey’s heart and gave him the courage to change the world, starting in the one place Huey knew all too well, Memphis.
Joe DiPietro and David Bryan bring their Tony Award winning musical on the road in true 1950’s fashion. Like the cavalcades of the time we listen to the book and lyrics these two have woven around the concept of George W. George. Bringing together the tension and music that shaped our nation and propelled it to a new generation, these two have made a time of our troubled past a night of great music.
To make this story stand up and make you twist and shout you need to have a good cast. Backing up our leads is outstanding supporting cast with strong voices and even stronger dance presence. Horace V. Rogers portrayal of Delray, Gator performed by Rhett George and Will Mann as Bobby are the male backbone of vocal forte in this show. Mann stands strong in this group with his voice and backing it up with such flexibility not seen from a big man.
Leading the cast is Felicia Boswell as Felicia and Bryan Fenkart as Huey. The two work very well together and keep the show moving. Fenkart is wonderful to watch as Huey with his backwoods, hillbilly, redneck way of the timing of movement and vocal projection. His ability to sing with the crick in the mouth for an entire show is both amazing and talented. Boswell left me wanting more to be seen from her. Her voice is amazing and pounds with vigor of the 50’s style young Diana Ross. It is her movement or should I say her over exaggeration of movement that kept me from believing her character. It was almost too rehearsed in its presentation that at times turned me off.
Stealing the show from my point of view would be Mama played by Julie Johnson. You can’t help but become engrossed in her characterization of a white woman in the south who sees change coming in her own way. In this case her change of a woman raised one way but changes for the care of her child. Oh and she belts gospel with the best of them.
This production has much helping set the tone for the time. The sets multi-use of facades and columns are well designed. Costuming is phenomenal considering how many changes each performer goes thru. Of course the music is classic in the style that brought everyone together and started a revolution. It all wraps up nicely for an evening of history and pleasure delving into the human experience.
“Memphis” is a night of great music and dance with a little reminder of some of our dark moments in growing as a country. If anything stood out as a caution, it would be the slow development of the story. Some points in the show are drawn out perhaps longer than needed or thrown in for just the sake of having filler. Again this is just my opinion on the matter as a fellow actor and of course as a reviewer. Overall it is a grand show and will delight thousands during its run.
In the beginning of this show I mentioned life imitating art. You see this show opened on election night 2012. A night were we were either going to re-elect our first black president or first Mormon president or as some saw it, as a black vs. white for our nation. Huey was a man who didn’t see things in this ‘black vs. white’ way much as some are even starting to do again today. He only saw everyone enjoying themselves in one common place with one goal, a place where we can all be together and enjoy life, in this case thru music and dance. Huey may be fictional but is based in the facts of the time, a time when you had to mind your P’s and Q’s, where if you were black you did not have the same rights as whites, where you were a minority. Even today we still have these issues where there are some who don’t have the same rights as others just because their, well, different. This is not a political statement but a human statement. We all have our own beliefs, religions, opinions, ideas of how we should be, but we all forget the true nature of it all. We are one, human race. No matter where we go we all need to have one powerful value, respect. In every teaching I have ever read the one thing that all have in common is respecting each other will bring us true happiness. As Huey respected the music he grew to love was meant for everyone so should we, now, respect each other and be one. As Huey would say, “Hockadoo!”
See “Memphis” at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts November 6, 2012 – November 18, 2012.
Follow my adventures in entertainment in Southern California on Twitter @SCThrillsMarc.