Monday, October 19, 2009


Contrary to popular belief, rock and roll did not start with Elvis Presley. The new Broadway musical "Memphis" depicts its birth among black singers in underground nightclubs on the now fabled Beale Street - and how the art form was soon pirated by white businessmen as a form of mass entertainment.

Huey Calhoun, an illiterate lowlife who successfully markets himself as a promoter of black rhythm & blues music until his unstoppable ego destroys his career, is loosely based on real-life DJs such as Dewey Phillips and Alan Freed that brought "race music" to the mainstream airwaves. He develops an interracial romance with the stunning performer Felicia, who is far smarter and practical than Calhoun.

Under the fast and flashy direction of Christopher Ashley, "Memphis" proves to be a truly entertaining and invigorating musical, benefiting immensely from Sergio Trujillo's athletic choreography, which is like a big bundle of kinetic energy.

Rather than use tried and true hits of the early 1950s, Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan has penned a pulsating new score mixing blues, rock and gospel that feels soulful and authentic to the period.

Except for a tacked-on upbeat ending, Joe DiPietro's book is dramatically sound and surprisingly unsentimental.

Chad Kimball is unapologetically over-the-top as Huey Calhoun, sporting a thick southern accent and a creepy, lowlife personality. It is the kind of committed performance that will completely divide audiences as to its merits. In any case, Kimball captures the character's streak of madness and strange charisma.

As Felicia, Montego Glover is a dynamic and sensual performer with a powerhouse voice that brings down the house.

Occasionally, "Memphis" feels clich├ęd and reminiscent of storylines already seen in "Hairspray," "Dreamgirls" and "Jersey Boys." But more often than not, its careful balance of pure fun and character drama proves to be irresistible.

Shubert Theatre, 225 W. 44th St., 212-239-6200, Open run.


At October 20, 2009 at 5:08 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Saw the show on Sunday, last one in previews. Yes at times reminds one of of Hairspray, Dreamgirls and even West Side Story. Audience loved it. Could not get enough of the cast and there were repeated curtain calls. Nice to see an upbeat show that does not deal with a disfunctional family for a change.

At October 27, 2009 at 5:37 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Contrary to popular belief, rock and roll did not start with Elvis Presley"...
Hate to correct you, but yes it did. Although teh city of Memphis has a rich history of Blues and RnB, it took a 19 year old truck driver from Memphis to combine Country music and Blues. This style of music was called Rockabilly, which is the real pre-cursor to Rock and Roll as we know it. The Blues didn't transition right to Rock and Roll. It took Bill Haley, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry who all combined COUNTRY HILLBILLY music with BLUES to create Rockabilly music. Haley did it in 1953, Presley in 1954.

At February 9, 2011 at 12:26 PM , Anonymous Christopher Brienza said...

I just saw this show last nite and I feel its a poor excuse for a B'way musical. In my opinion its a low grade hairspray..Its a contrived mess with a lousy score and characters who get on your nerves.. As a lover of B'way musicals its sad to me that a show of this quality is enjoying such success.. I guess the core audience which consists of bridge and tunnel and out of towners eat up this shlock.. Oh and by the way the show about a dysfunctional family, next 2 normal is truly a masterpiece next to this lame and corny show......

At January 16, 2012 at 10:50 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the show with the entire family. By the way the house was packed. There was one older man with a ponytail in front of me who didn't clap once. Everyone else including his friends were having a good time.At the end people were on their feet. I was in the balcony with a birds eye view and the auidence showed their appreciation! Broadway has so much to offer and appreciate. Too bad some people just over analyze everything and should just have fun with the genre.


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