Playing now through July 12th at the Walnut Street Theatre is a big show with a big heart -- Memphis – The Musical.
In 2010 Memphis took home four Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Book and Best Orchestrations. The Book, by Joe DiPietro is dramatic, human and funny. The Music by Bon Jovi keyboardist, David Bryan sounds like music of the era, evoking the funk of James Brown, the smooth harmonies of the Temptations and the bouncy pop of the girl groups with several standout tunes, The Music of My Soul, Someday and Love Will Stand When All Else Falls.
The original story is inspired by true life white disc jockey Dewey Phillips, whose show, “Red Hot and Blue” is thought to be responsible for helping to integrate the American airways from 1948 – 1958. “Memphis” is a fictional account of Huey Calhoun, an illiterate hillbilly with a gift of the gab who falls in love with an African American singer, Felecia Farrell. Huey vows to make Felicia a star by taking her music out of the underground clubs and promoting it on the big Memphis radio stations. By showcasing both black and white musicians he promotes wider acceptance of black artists as rockabilly and rock n’ roll emerge as national trends. Though Huey develops a Number One show with a bi-racial teen audience, Memphis, Tennessee is not ready for Huey and Felecia’s romance.
At the Sunday evening performance which I attended, understudy Christopher DeAngelis played the role of Huey Calhoun, singing up a “hillbilly” storm. Light on his feet with just the right amount of pluck, DeAngelis turns in a winning performance. Kimber Sprawlas Felecia Farrell, is a little girl with a great, big voice, sounding sweet on tunes like “Someday” and powerful on “Colored Woman” and “Makes Me Stronger”. Her acting chops are equally as strong as her voice, making her a poignant leading lady. Mary Martello is simply wonderful as Mama, Calhoun’s dour mater, who has an epiphany in her song, “Change, Don’t Come Easy.” And Nichalas Parker is a comic delight as Bobby, the reluctant singer turned M. C.
The set by Peter Barbieri which entails several different playing levels with neon lights is exhilarating to watch, the nine piece orchestra with keyboardists Douglass G. Lutz and John Daniels wails all night and the array of 1950’s costumes by Gail Baldoni is eye-popping. My only disappointment was the lackluster execution of the choreography.
If you’ve never seen the show before, it’s one to catch. It’s one of the more deeply satisfying theatrical experiences that Broadway has had to offer in recent years. For Tickets call: 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787 or visit Walnut’s website at www.WalnutStreetTheatre.org or go to Ticketmaster.
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