“Memphis” to be next American musical classic by Kevin M. Thomas


Seven years. It’s taken seven long years for the exciting and easily be-boopable “Memphis” to make it to the Broadway stage. And it’s about time.

First seen at the Bay Area’s TheatreWorks, I knew it had to be on the great white way. I just didn’t think it would take so long. With pre-Broadway runs in La Jolla and Seattle, “Memphis” should easily make its home in New York for a long time to come.

Bursting with talent, the stars of “Memphis” were smart to stick with this glorious show from the onset. Likely to become an American classic, “Memphis” tells the fictionalized story of Huey Calhoun, a white DJ who wants to get black music on the center of the radio dial for all to hear and to groove too. “Memphis” really isn’t hard hitting in dealing with racism but its 1950s setting make the struggles and fights more pertinent.

Race story aside, “Memphis” focuses more on the blossoming love story between Huey and his music as well as with local nightclub singer Felicia Farrell who tries to hide their taboo relationship in order to avoid racial conflict and to further both of their careers.

There has seldom been a better matched pair of actors and characters than leads Chad Kimball and Montego Glover, who both originated their roles in the San Francisco Bay Area. Both can easily blow the roof off any theatre with their powerful vocals, but it seems that over the years that have grew even more comfortable in their roles, turning them into Huey and Felicia.

memphischadKimball’s mellow and carefree characterization puts you at ease with his laid back, Southern accent and even the way he strides across the stage, commanding your attention at every move. And better yet – this man can sing! His great range and powerful vocals is pure magic. Not since Michael Crawford in “Phantom of the Opera” or Richard Kiley in “Man of La Mancha” has there been a better marriage of actor and role.

Then there’s Glover, who has really grown into her character and brings down the house in her show stopping “Colored Woman” number which seemed less impressive seven years ago but now can easily send chills down to your core.

“Memphis” is not a two character show. From J. Bernard Calloway as Glover’s brother and Derrick Baskin as the quiet Gator to Cass Morgan’s Mamma, everyone in the cast is in top form and given their time to shine. A notable and noticeable standout is James Monroe Iglehart as Bobby, a Teddy Bear of a man who works at the radio station with Huey. Obviously, the producers know talent when they see it as Iglehart’s role has gotten bigger over the past several years and he even has a wonderful new solo that wasn’t in the original TheatreWorks production but added by the time it go to La Jolla. Iglehart’s second act “Big Love” number is a stand and take notice moment for Iglehart as he sings and dances with every fiber of his being, easily making it one of the show’s greatest moments and very likely getting Iglehart a Tony Award.

memphismontegoAnd while the actors will easily blow you away, the sets, lighting and vibrant costumes make you easily feel as if you’re in a 1950s time warp and easily set the mood for an evening of great entertainment. Special kudos also to director Christopher Ashley and Sergio Trujillo who have fine tuned the production from TheatreWorks to Broadway, making it a seamless, magical night. This is what live theatre is all about.

With all of the great performances and production values aside, “Memphis” is nothing without creators Joe DiPetro and David Bryan. Their great melodies and clever lyrics have paved the way for them to be the modern day Rogers & Hammerstein or Kander & Ebb because what these two create together is sheer delight. Proving they are not a one hit wonder, the two also created the current off-Broadway musical spoof “The Toxic Avenger” proving that they truly are the next Broadway dynamic duo.

As one of the cast members says in their Playbill profile, it’s nice to be part of a musical that isn’t based upon a movie. After seeing this amazing show, we all can echo that sentiment.

To learn more about “Memphis” and to get tickets, go to www.memphisthemusical.com.