Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Broadway’s ‘Memphis’ is Back Home at the 5th Avenue

Felicia Boswell (Felicia) and Bryan Fenkart (Huey) 
in the National Touring Cast of MEMPHIS
Photo: Paul Kolnik

The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle has had quite a year with announcements of two of its original productions, “Scandalous” and “A Christmas Story” will be making their Broadway debut in the coming weeks. Now, the theatre is celebrating the return of one of its own, “Memphis” for one more week.

“Memphis” had a pre-Broadway tryout at the 5th Avenue in 2009 (in collaboration with the La Jolla Playhouse). In 2010, the musical moved to the Big Apple where it won four Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Score.

“Memphis” is truly a sample of Broadway at its best. It is totally original and classic at the same time. It’s a Romeo and Juliet storyline set in a 1950’s Americana. The story begins in the smoky underground clubs during the pre-Civil Rights era where white men would fear to tread. Enter Huey Calhoun (Bryan Fenkart), a young white DJ, drawn to the club by the musical stylings of an equally young, yet black, Felicia (Felicia Boswell). Though the romance is doomed from the start, the two fall hopelessly in love despite the lectures from Huey's mother, Gladys (Julie Johnson), and Delray (Horace V. Rogers), Felicia’s over-protective brother. Still, Huey finds a way to play Felicia’s music over the very “white” radio waves. Before you know it, Felicia is a big star and Huey could be as well if he would only compromise his beliefs.

A musical play about race relations isn’t anything new, but how “Memphis” chooses to tackle the subject is. Perhaps the most interesting is how Christianity is perceived by both parties. Huey’s mama is horrified that her son would be interested in a black girl and bring the girl in her house. She tells Huey, “This is a Christian home!” to which he responds, “She’s a Christian too!” He tries to tell his mother about how different and yet how similar Felicia’s church is to their own. Mama doesn’t buy it…until she tries the church out by herself. By the end of the production, Mama is singing a new song and is at least, a little more comfortable with the black community.

The music of “Memphis” features a nice variety of styles from the 50’s ala Elvis, Little Richard, Motown and gospel. David Bryan’s music and Joe DiPietro’s lyrics sound both contemporary and nostalgic at the same time. Both Fenkart and Boswell have fantastic voices, but the real surprise is Rogers who almost steals the show.

“Memphis” is also different in its storytelling. There are many light-hearted scenes and you’ll find yourself smiling throughout the whole production. However, there are some darker moments and the story doesn’t end the way that you want it to, but it still ends on a happy note.

“Memphis” continues until October 7. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and two matinees will be performed this weekend at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday and 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets start at $29 and can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 206.629.1900. The 5th Avenue Theatre is located at 1308 5th Avenue in downtown Seattle. (Originally posted on Examiner.com)

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