Two outstanding performances – Chad Kimball as the uneducated, charming, aggressive and street smart white guy Huey who plays by his own rules in segregated Memphis of the 1950’s and Montego Glover as Felicia, a beautiful black underground club singer on Beale Street – in the vibrant, original musical Memphis, by Joe DiPietro (Book & Lyrics) and David Bryan (Music & Lyrics) are reason enough to see this entertaining and exhilarating show. It is not exaggerating when I say that their names should be above the title of this production which is like a shot of adrenalin on Broadway.
They are destined to meet and destined to travel on their journey together which leads to her becoming a star and his falling by the wayside. All because of his passion and promise to get her heard on the white radio station, aggravating both Blacks and Whites. On the way they just happen to fall in love with each other. A very dangerous thing to have happen at that time in that place.
They are spectacular together. Their stirring duets “Ain’t Nothin’ But a Kiss” and “Love Will Stand” truly memorable. You marvel at Huey’s risk taking and chutzpah wondering if he is just stubborn or stupid while always rooting for him. Felicia adds the danger that is inherent in the show. Singing with a powerful voice that electrifies she is also afraid. And rightly so. The first act ends with a brutal beating of them both by white racists.
Christopher Ashley has directed with a firm and unique hand, keeping the action flowing from one moment to the next and allowing a lot of humor to surface in an otherwise serious piece. All the time remembering that this is a musical, he is aided by some sensational and inventive choreography by Sergio Trujillo that rocks the stage of the Shubert Theatre.
The score is extremely strong. The book gets the story across in a clear and succinct manner – getting to the all important songs and dances. With lots of humor. Memphis is beautifully staged and the fantastic sets by David Gallo allow the action to cinematically move form location to location. Right on costumes by Paul Tazewell are just part of the overall stunning visual package.
In supporting roles and they all do ably support the production are Cass Morgan as Huey’s red neck mom who doesn’t really mind the success she has because of her son, J. Bernard Calloway as Felicia’s protective brother, James Monroe Iglehart whose dancing astounds and Derek Baskin who will move you to tears with “Say a Prayer”.
Memphis was not integrated in the 50’s but Memphis the musical is a totally integrated production where all of the elements add up to a lively and thought provoking production while entertaining you throughout. Highly recommended.