Memphis should be calling New York home for quite some time. This crowd-pleasing musical boasts not just an exhilarating original score of '50s rock and soul but, even rarer, an original story -- it's not based on a movie, nor is it a jukebox musical. That's both an advantage and disadvantage. When the music stops, which fortunately it never does for very long, the underdeveloped characters are all too apparent.
Like the recent film Cadillac Man and the long-running musical Hairspray, Memphis, written by Bon Jovi's David Bryan (music and lyrics) and Joe DiPietro (book and lyrics), looks at the integration of so-called "race music" into the mainstream '50s culture of the South. Leading the way is Huey Calhoun, a young and zealous music aficionado with a vision. After talking his way into one of the city's black nightclubs and meeting the lovely Felicia Farrell (Montego Glover), a powerhouse of a singer, he vows to get her music on the radio. Brash and determined, Huey succeeds, and although listeners demand more and Huey soon rises to fame as the host of a local American Bandstand-style show, the precarious racial relations of the day threaten not only his livelihood but also his romance with Felicia.
The show soars thanks to splashy production numbers and an endearing and exhilarating cast. But Kimball's sublime 11-o'clock number, "Memphis Lives in Me," is undercut because it's been shoehorned into a moment that doesn't serve the character. Felicia also gets short-shrifted by a book that doesn't fully convey the losses she suffers. As much as the music and Sergio Trujillo's choreography engulf the audience with their passion and fervor, Memphis keeps a guarded distance from fully exploring the social situations of the day and their ramifications.
BY DIANE SNYDER
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Chad Kimball, Montego Glover, J. Bernard Calloway, James Monroe Iglehart, Cass Morgan, Derrick Baskin, Michael McGrath, Jennifer Allen, Brad Bass, Tracee Beazer, Kevin Covert, Hillary Elk, Dionne Figgins, Rhett George, John Jellison, Sydney Morton, Vivian Nixon, John Eric Parker, Jermaine R. Rembert, LaQuet Sharnell, Ephraim Sykes, Cary Tedder, Danny Tidwell, Daniel J. Watts, Katie Webber, Charlie Williams, Dan’yelle Williamson
225 W. 44 St.
New York, NY 10036
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