“Memphis,” the 2010 Tony Award winner for Best Musical, made its St. Louis debut last night at the Fox Theatre. It’s a sassy, bombastic look at the early days of Rock ‘n’ Roll in 1950s Memphis, Tennessee.
Huey Calhoun (Bryan Fenkart) lives with his Mama (Julie Johnson) and can’t hold down a job. To escape his life of poverty he heads to Delray’s, an underground African-American rock and roll bar. Neither the owner (Quentin Earl Darrington) nor the clientele want Huey there, but he wins them over through his love of their music.
During his frequent visits Huey becomes enamored with Delray’s star act Felicia (Felicia Boswell) — who is also Delray’s younger sister. Huey becomes determined to bring black music, and Felicia’s talent in particular, out of the underground.
Huey manages to get a job at a radio station where he becomes the top DJ in Memphis, playing music that white adults hate but their kids love. Speaking of love, Huey and Felicia wind up in a relationship that must remain secret if it’s to remain safe.
Huey’s popularity grows so much he winds up on television, but when the big time comes calling for Huey and Felicia, compromises must be made and relationships strained.
Written by David Bryan and Joe DiPietro, “Memphis” opened on Broadway in 2009 and a year later walked away with four Tony Awards. It’s a high-energy romp and an emotional roller coaster.
While overall the songs aren’t particularly memorable (you won’t be humming anything while leaving the theater except possibly “Someday” or “Steal Your Rock ‘n’ Roll”), the singers certainly are. Most musicals boast maybe two or three singers who can stop the show with their vocals, but “Memphis” stars six — Fenkart, Boswell, Johnson and Darrington, along with Rhett George and Will Mann, are the strongest vocal ensemble I’ve seen at the Fox in some time.
The dancers and musicians are also first-rate. The stage set-up isn’t that impressive in the beginning but does take on some interesting turns as the show progresses. The show doesn’t fall into a lull in the second act as sometimes happens.
“Memphis” earns its acclaim. It’s worth checking out before it leaves town.
Memphis plays through May 13 at the Fox Theatre. http://www.fabulousfox.com/