"Memphis" in Motown Review - Turn Up Your Radio Dials

As spring settles into Motown with its familiar unpredictability, the city’s Fisher Theatre welcomes the four-time Tony Award winning musical “Memphis” to its spirited stage.  With a limited engagement beginning April 9 through to April 21, the critically acclaimed performance boasts honours for Best Musical, Best Original Score (David Bryan and Joe DiPietro), Best Book (Joe DiPietro) and Best Orchestration (David Bryan and Daryl Waters) of 2010.  The storyline is based on actual accounts of the rise and fall of Memphis disk jockey, the late Dewey Phillips, whose plight was to integrate American radio from 1948 to 1958.


Set in the 1950s where the Tennessee city laid claim to the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll, its seedy Beale Street nightclubs, numerous radio stations and abundant recording studios, together attempt to tear down the walls of segregation.  Sparking the movement, is a simple, yet controversial white DJ Huey Calhoun (Bryan Fenkart) whose love for R & B music and Felicia Farrell (Felicia Boswell), a rising black singing sensation, ignites both a musical and social movement.


Broken into two acts, the first begins with Calhoun entering Delray’s, an underground black nightclub named after Felicia’s overprotective brother Delray Farrell (Horace Rogers), where its patrons are more than annoyed by the unwelcomed and nervy local.  While attempting to convince them that his love for urban music urged him to their club, his ears temporarily stray from the music to the incredible vocal talent of Miss Farrell.  From here he attempts to convince her that someday her voice will be heard on radio stations from coast to coast.


Now, armed with both his love for music and his vision for Felicia, he relentlessly promotes his DJ skills to anyone willing to listen, yet finds himself met with many a closed door.  His luck changes however, when he enters a local radio station where owner Mr. Simmons (Christopher Gurr) allows him to observe an already prominent yet tiresome DJ.  Quickly hijacking the microphone, Calhoun wins over rebellious teens as the airwaves are rejuvenated with rock ‘n’ roll and R & B music as well as a radio personality which eventually propels the station to #1.


The second act follows the ill-fated couple as the pressure of fame, fortune and racial tension mounts.  A trip to New York City, where Felicia denotes that their love will be openly accepted, sees one’s career flourish as the other fumbles.  A live televised on-air kiss between the two, spawned by Calhoun’s jealousy and desire to keep Felicia from leaving him behind, thickens the already spicy storyline further and ultimately leads to the musical’s forlorn conclusion.


“Memphis” is from its first to its final scene an incredibly energetic performance.  Though its theme deals mainly with delicate racial issues, the topic is handled in a true, yet sensitive manner.  In terms of production Sergio Trujillo’s choreography elevates the musical’s dance routines to unprecedented heights as they are by far second to none.  David Bryan interestingly, flexes his musical muscle in scoring the play, though fans may better recognize him as co-founder and keyboardist for pop icons Bon Jovi.  Overall, “Memphis” is a very welcomed addition to this year’s Broadway in Detroit lineup. You will definitely have a “Hockadoo” good time! 


To purchase tickets for "Memphis" please visit www.broadwayindetroit.com .

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