The Rogers Revue

The Entertainment Capitol

Memphis

5 min read

 

Memphis, the Tony Award winning musical rocked and rolled its way into the hearts of DC theatre lovers at the Warner Theatre May 1 & 2. Tony Awards in 2010 included Best Musical, book by Joe DiPietro, and original score by David Bryan. Although inspired by actual events, it tells the fictional story of Huey Calhoun, and the birth of Rock and Roll.

The show is set in the 1950’s where racial separation was abundant in the south. Scene one opens stereotypically showing a white radio station (call letters “WHTE”) and the DJ playing mellow white music and switches to the contrasting black station playing Rhythm and Blues.

We are soon introduced to out leading characters. Good-ole-boy Huey Calhoun walks in to Delray’s African American Club and hears the melodic singing of Delray’s sister, Felicia Farrell. He is drawn to her and her voice and claims that he can make her a star.

Huey Calhoun, played by Daniel S. Hines kind of reminded me of “Woody” on the “Cheers” TV show. He was just this goofy talking, dopey, clueless, white guy with a slow drawl and nasal voice. Mr. Hines did an amazing job of playing this loveable hick. I found his acting to be great, but his vocals were often not as strong as the rest of the cast, and I found myself wondering if he was speaking half his songs in the goofy accent on purpose. As Huey claimed that he was lost until he found the “music of my soul”, he sets off on his plan to make something of his life by introducing R&B to white society. He first tries to convince his department store boss that he should be a salesman. Despite an agreement being reached that Huey could have the job if he could sell 5 albums; Huey was still fired when he sold 29 albums in minutes because of the type of records he sold. Kudos goes to the actress who played the prudish sales woman who was “taken over” and “possessed” by the R&B beat and began dancing hilariously.

Huey’s next attempt at making something of himself and his passion was to try to get hired as a radio DJ. WHTZ claimed that they were a Blues station. However, they were playing Patty Page singing “Doggy in the Window”. Huey recognized Bobby, his club buddy working as a janitor there. Bobby was played by Rendell Debose. I found him to be a great comedic actor, as well as a phenomenal vocalist. With Bobby’s help, Huey grabbed the microphone when the DJ exited the booth and took over the station telling listeners to call if they liked what he was playing. With audience feedback, the station manager, Mr. Simmons agreed to give Huey a 2 week unpaid trial, with the stipulation that he inform the audience that he was white.

Huey went on to change the station name to WRNB. He adlibbed a beer commercial, because he couldn’t read, and coined the phrase “Hockadoo”, which apparently helped to sell beer and unite listeners. Huey also invited his listeners to the Baptist Church to listen to the wonderful choir. His career was finally going places.

Huey’s mother, however, was not as enthusiastic. When Felicia Farrell and her brother Delray finally saved enough money to put her album on the air, Ms. Calhoun breaks the album. Huey is determined to continue to woo Felicia and make her a star, however. The determined Huey then puts Felicia, her band and back-up singers on the radio live. Zuri Washington, who played Felicia has absolutely thee most phenomenal singing voice. Her voice was powerful like Tina Turner. I found myself just in awe of her singing.

As Felicia’s popularity grew, so did Huey’s fame. Their relationship also grew in secret for two years. However, it was still dangerous for them to even be seen together. Huey had actually proposed to Felicia, however, they were noticed kissing by a gang of white men who attacked them. Delray’s concerns that Huey was putting his sister in danger became reality. As Huey carried injured Felicia back to the club, Gator, played by Jonathan David Randle sang a beautiful song of “Say a Prayer”. Keith Patrick McCoy, who played Delray also had the most wonderful voice. I could almost picture his deep voice singing a rendition of “Old Man River” some day. His voice was truly amazing.

When Huey’s fame has reached the top, he is given a TV show sponsored by Mr. Simmons. Even Huey’s mom has begun to accept Felicia and tells Delray that they need to stop their intolerant ways. Felicia, however, was hesitant to go on his Memphis show, so Bobby becomes Huey’s first guest as a surprise. When Felicia is signed to perform with a National contract in New York, she urges Huey to move there as well so that they can be together. Huey is humorously in competition with Dick Clark for the New York show. However, Huey is naive and wishes to remain in Memphis. He believes that times are changing since Rosa Parks stood her ground on the bus. Huey, with his naive foolish idealism, refuses to dismiss his black dancers or change his manner of dress. He stands his ground by kissing Felicia on TV. He is fired. Felicia moves to New York without him.

Although four years later, Huey is now a DJ on a low bandwidth channel, and Felicia is famous touring the country and engaged to someone else, she has not forgotten him. She hears him playing her song on the radio and invites him to her Memphis concert. She said it isn’t right to perform in Memphis without him. She invites him on stage to tell folks who he used to be. As he timidly speaks, he gains strength from warm greetings from friends. He is not forgotten.

This show was wonderful and upbeat despite some serious subject matter and sad moments. The dancing was fabulous and well synchronized. The chorus numbers were amazing. The singing was incredibly wonderful. The band was terrific and played onstage with the actors. Anyone wanting some toe tapping entertainment will enjoy this show!