Memphis the Musical Won’t Let You Down
Memphis the Musical officially opened on Broadway last night to a huge crowd of Memphians, investors, producers and celebrities. Celebrities like Richie Sambora and Tico Torres:
It made sense that they were there – their Bon Jovi cohort David Bryan wrote all of the music for the show. But the biggest celebrities of the evening by far were the Peabody Ducks. Duckmaster Jason flew them to New York to waddle down the red carpet. It was crazy – jaded reporters and photographers from national media outlets were going nuts over the ducks.
To be completely honest, I was a little skeptical about seeing the show. I was worried that the writers would gloss over the real Memphis, that the music wouldn’t be appropriately Memphis-y, and that it just wouldn’t live up to the incredible city that its set in. I’m really happy to tell you that all of my skepticism was without reason.
Memphis the Musical is good – really good.
Here’s the basic plot: In 1950’s Memphis, a young white part-time radio DJ named Huey wanders into a basement club on Beale Street and hears “black” music for the first time. He falls for the sound (as well as Felicia, the beautiful woman singing) and begins to play the music on “white” radio stations, where it’s instantly a hit. As Huey and Felicia’s stars rise, their interracial relationship faces trouble in pre-civil rights-era Memphis.
The cast (especially stars Chad Kimball as “Huey” and Montego Glover as “Felicia”) is incredible. Also – the dancing is amazing. It’s incredible the kinds of moves this cast can pull off while singing.
The music in the show makes sense. Clearly, David Bryan did his Memphis music history homework.
The songs are also placed realistically – in a musical about music, there’s very little of that annoying habit that some musicals have of just making the characters burst into song at strange times. Each of the songs in the show serve to advance the plot, but could also be stand-alone hits.
As for the music itself, most of it is appropriate for a musical about Memphis. There’s plenty of rock’n’roll and Hammond organ and raunch in the majority of the tunes. A few sound a little more like standard Broadway musical fare, but the ones people were singing on the way out of the theater were definitely the more Memphis-sounding tracks.
I really enjoyed what Commercial Appeal theatre reporter Christopher Blank said in his review of the show:
“Huey, in a way, is right when he says “I am Memphis.” He’s flawed, egomaniacal, quick to bare his soul, and is stuck in his ways. When Felicia asks him to leave Memphis, he declares that he’d rather stay and be a force for change than give in to the forces that would change him. It doesn’t do him or his relationship much good.
It’s a moment that reveals as much about the show’s creators as it does about Huey. To these folks, Memphis is synonymous with not selling out, sticking to your heart, loving who you love, and believing that one person — one town — can truly rock the world.”