Thursday, March 01, 2012


Hockadoo MEMPHIS rocks the Palace

Bannered as “The essence of what a Broadway musical should be,” there is no way of experiencing MEMPHIS, the David Bryan and Jo DiPietro musical, now on stage at the Palace Theatre, without shouting “Hockadoo!”

Yes, this is a Hockadoo, “Yay!” and “Whoo hoo!” kind of show. It’s wonderful! It bursts on stage with the Underground opening number and keeps on going through the curtain call with explosive dancing, exciting songs and a tale of forbidden love.

The musical takes us back to the 1950s. It’s the segregated South where the mixing of blacks and whites is not only unacceptable, it’s illegal. This is Memphis, Tennessee, where the Klan holds sway, blacks “know their place,” and “negra” music isn’t sung or appreciated by whites.

An eccentric white guy bursts into a black underground dance club. He’s out of kilter with both the white and black communities. He’s a drifter who can’t find his nitch in life, but somehow perceives the idea of a white radio DJ who plays black music. And before he’s through, many rules of the Memphis culture are altered.

Though billed as a rock musical, it really mixes gospel and rhythm and blues with foundational rock music. Included in the great score are the dynamic The Music of My Soul, the heartfelt Ain’t Nothing But a Kiss, and the beautiful Someday. It’s the kind of sound that gave birth to the likes of Elvis.

The production captivates. To cap it all off, the goings on are based on actual events which highlight disc jockey, Dewey Phillips, here named Huey, who burst on the scene by being unafraid, out of kilter with the norm, and having a vision of what should be. He falls in love with a black club singer and brings her first to local and then to national attention.

MEMPHIS opened on Broadway on October 19, 2009 and went on to win the Tony Award for Best Musical. It is still running on Broadway.

The touring production is as good as the Broadway version. Felicia Boswell, as Felicia, Huey’s love interest is dynamic. She was the cover for the part of Felicia on Broadway and grabs and holds the audience with her vocal dynamics. Bryan Fenkart, who was the stand-by for the lead male role in New York, is nothing short of compelling as Huey. Both have great singing voices and create clear characterizations. There is real magnetism between the two.

Quentin Earl Darrington (Delray) powers his vocals. He is one talented singer. Julie Johnson (Mama) is delightful. Her Change Don’t Come Easy was a show stopper. Rhett George wails Say A Prayer. The rest of the cast is equally as talented.

The dancers are dynamic and the chorus sounds blend well. The band is tunefully great. The sets, lights and costumes all work.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: MEMPHIS is one of those special handclapping, cheer inducing, wonderful evenings of theatre. This is a must see!!