Memphis, the 2010 Tony-winning musical now at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts for a two-week run, fills the hall with such an energy, neighboring Las Olas could stay lit for a year.
The Broadway hit is set in segregated Memphis, Tenn., in the 1950s. The story centers on the not-so-bright Huey Calhoun (Joey Elrose), an aspiring white DJ who has music in his soul, and the underground black club on Beale Street, where he finds his heart in its rhythm and blues.
The odd pairing of book writer and co-lyricist, Joe DiPietro, who is mostly known for his musical I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (recently performed at the Plaza and on the boards for the upcoming Broward Stage Door season) and David Bryan, music and co-lyricist, the keyboard player and one of the founders of Bon Jovi, turns out to be an alchemy that has all of the right elements.
Memphis is exuberant, and despite its simplification of the birth of rock ’n’ roll, it is two-plus hours of not only soul-stirring music, but soul-wrenching emotions. Characters are fully fleshed out for a "pop" musical (something that many of the latest of the same genre don’t give attention to, a.k.a. Rock of Ages, We Will Rock You).
The story follows Calhoun’s rise to becoming the No. 1 deejay in Memphis after he ditches the Perry Como and Patti Page records for music that has white kids "scratching that itch." Calhoun is a fictionalized version of Dewey Phillips, best known as "Daddy-P" Dewey, the Memphis deejay who was the first ever to interview Elvis Presley in July of 1954, and who is a legend for his appeal moving beyond race. In fact, a fun bit in Memphis where Calhoun sells out records at a five-and-ten store is actually taken from the pages of Phillips’s life/ After returning from World War II, Pyhillips laned a job at the W.T. Grand in downtown Memphis and after taking over the public address system started attracting crowds to the department store to hear his banter and to sell records.
It’s one of the places where original choreography by Sergio Trujillo is shown off with the record buyers doing flips, spins and plenty of hip shakes.
DiPietro keeps the book light and, at times, its predictable. Yet, when Huey’s God-fearing Christian mother (Pat Sibley, who steals the show with her Gospel-inspired Change Don’t Come Easy) has a change of heart in Act II, and the mute bartender, Gator, (the supremely talented Avionce Hoyles) at the Beal Street Club, who hasn’t spoken in years after seeing his father’s lynching, reveals his incredible vocal talents, all of the B-movie dialogue doesn’t matter.
Jasmin Richardson as Felicia has a voice that sends chills and she shines on the Dream Girls-eseque Colored Woman. She’s wonderfully paired with the earnest Elrose, and they bring a believability to the characters’ struggles.
Jerrial T. Young as Bobby is a big man with smooth moves and he proves his muster on the song Big Love.
There’s a lot to love about Memphis. It’s a feel good musical with plenty of soul and a lot of heart.
Memphis is at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale through March 9 at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, with matinees at 2 p.m. Saturdays and 1 p.m. Sundays.The show also has a 6:30 p.m. Sunday, March 2 performance. Tickets $34.50 to $79.50. 954-462-0222 or BrowardCenter.org.