Broadway’s “Memphis” 10 Years Later...

SpookyFish13
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Today marks the 10th anniversary of the opening night of “Memphis: A New Musical” on Broadway, which ended up going on to run for 1,066 performances, and win 3 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Score of a Musical.

The reason I’m starting this thread is to possibly start a dialogue about how well (or poorly) the show has aged. Would a show like this ever be staged in 2019? Was it ever a truly “great” show, as it’s Tony wins and publicity around the time would suggest? Or was it simply a “right-place-at-the-right-time” thing?

Bit of background: Memphis was my first ever Broadway show. I had seen a couple shows on London’s West End, but this was my first full-fledged Broadway spectacle. I was 15 and I was amazed. Since then, i’ve remembered the plot, music, and acting with rose-colored glasses, since it was my introductory experience to Broadway.

Recently, to relive a bit of this nostalgia I bought the Blu Ray on Amazon of the live recording.... I failed to remember exactly how problematic the show was. Was Huey Calhoun supposed to be... slow? Or was that simply an awful acting choice on Kimbell’s part? Why is Montego Glover’s character so complicit/one dimensional? I understand the character’s relationship with her emotionally-abusive brother may have made her a little reserved, but it shocked me at just how flat and dull her character was written.

And my last question: did black theatre-goers actually LIKE this show? Because it would seem to me that this would be incredibly problematic. It strikes me that this show basically just uses its one-dimensional black characters to propel Huey’s narrative. And it’s a weak one at that....

Thoughts?

Updated On: 10/19/19 at 01:26 PM
Ceej
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I saw the show on Broadway during Pascal's time as Huey, but got his understudy Kevin Massey instead. He was wonderful but I don't remember him doing all the mannerisms that are present on the BluRay. In fact, I find that performance to be very distracting and therefore the video hard to get through. I loved the show when I saw it in NYC.

Recently, Theatre Under the Stars here in Houston did a local production of the show. I enjoyed their version almost as much as seeing it for the first time, so I don't personally think that the show feels different now. I'm sure others will have differing opinions and I suspect you'll get a wide range of thoughts on Kimball and his choices.
 

yankeefan7
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I enjoyed the show and saw the OBC, Montego Glover was really good. I believe the show received mixed reviews and the opinion was it won the Tony Award for Best Musical in a weak field.

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CATSNYrevival
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I think Kimball's performance slowly evolved over time. The tics that were present in the beginning became more and more exaggerated as time went on. By the time they filmed it he was having obvious difficulty hitting the high notes and his acting performance had audiences questioning the character's mental state. I still wish they had done something to clean up the end of "Memphis Lives in Me" for the blu-ray because it's difficult to watch and listen to him struggle with that note compared to the seemingly effortless take on the cast album.

 

Updated On: 10/19/19 at 02:16 PM
SpookyFish13
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CATSNYrevival said: "I thinkKimball's performance slowly evolved over time. The tics that were presentin the beginning became more and more exaggerated as time went on. By the time they filmed it he was having obvious difficulty hitting the high notes and his acting performance had audiences questioning the character's mental state. I still wish they had done something to clean up the end of "Memphis Lives in Me" for the blu-ray because it's difficult to watch and listen to him struggle with that note compared to the seemingly effortless take on the cast album.

"

That's a really good point. I saw the show with the OBC when they were fresh off their Tony win. I don't remember Kimball's performance playing up the "tics" nearly as much as he did on the recording. It could be the case that the further the show ran, the more Kimball hammed-up Huey's... "quirks". Maybe this was just Kimball becoming too comfortable with the role, I don't know... 

 

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JBroadway
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I never saw the show live, but I saw a screening of the filmed version in a movie theater. I thought the show was solid and safe, with a relatively cohesive book, but a forgettable score, and bland, cliché plot (and yes, problematic).

I definitely think there was a degree of "right place, right time" to its Tony wins. It was a notoriously weak year for Best Musical. American Idiot, Fela!, and Million Dollar Quartet were the other nominees. Many people felt that American Idiot should have won, but even American Idiot had pretty mixed reception. And Memphis was ultimately the safer choice. In retrospect though, I would argue that it's easily the worst Best Musical winner of the decade. Not only because of my own opinion, but also it seems have faded from our collective memory the most quickly, and the most completely. And as the OP pointed out, it has aged the worst.

 

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Miles2Go2
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Interesting. I had to go back and look at what other shows were nominated alongside it:

American Idiot
Fela!
Million Dollar Quartet

Personally, American Idiot was my first Broadway show when I first came to New York for a work trip in 2010. I saw it with the OBC and loved it. I saw it again when I returned for work in January 2011 not long before it closed.

I saw Memphis with my parents when it toured through Tulsa. I liked it, but didn’t necessarily love it. It was a good show to see with my conservative-leaning parents. but, as I recall, it’s a very simplified telling of the music business and racism.

I wish I could’ve seen Fela!

I know American Idiot has its critics, but I really wish it had received more love from The Tony Awards. None of its cast even received nominations. The musical won two well-deserved Tony Awards: Best Scenic Design of a Musical for Christine Jones and Best Lighting Design of a Musical for Kevin Adams.
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Memphis is probably the worst “Best Musical” winner that I’ve ever seen. I thought it was dreadful and very pedestrian.
SpookyFish13
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JBroadway said: "I never saw the show live, but I saw a screening of the filmed version in a movie theater. I thought the show was solid and safe, with a relatively cohesive book, but a forgettable score, andbland,cliché plot (and yes, problematic).

I definitely think there was a degree of "right place, right time" to its Tony wins. It was a notoriously weak year for Best Musical. American Idiot, Fela!, and Million Dollar Quartet were the other nominees. Many people felt that American Idiot should have won, but even American Idiot had pretty mixedreception. And Memphis was ultimately the safer choice. In retrospect though, I would argue that it's easily the worst Best Musical winner of the decade. Not only because of my own opinion, but also it seems have faded from our collective memory the most quickly, and the most completely. And as the OP pointed out, it hasaged the worst.


 

Another great point. I totally agree with the music and score being forgettable. I feel like this may have had something to do with the creative team. At times, I would go as far to say it even approaches a  "South Park does Soul Music" kinda vibe. Almost like a cookie cutter, borderline-parody of what someone who's never heard soul music thinks it would sound like. The song "Everybody Wants To Be Black on a Saturday Night" proves my point alone. It's dripping with unintentional camp. 

 

Updated On: 10/19/19 at 03:01 PM
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Broadway’s “Memphis” 10 Years Later...#10
Posted: 10/19/19 at 3:45pm

ljay889 said: "Memphis is probably the worst “Best Musical” winner that I’ve ever seen. I thought it was dreadful and very pedestrian. "

Agreed! I’ve seen every winner since 1997 (and some from before), and this is far and away the very worst. The racial politics are at best juvenile but for me move into outright problematic. The score is dreadful, and the book is worse. That it won over American Idiot and Fela is a travesty. Neither was a perfect show, but they were both many times more ambitious, thoughtful, and exciting. Idiot was a real triumph of design and direction, even if the story was thin. And Fela had the best and most daring book of any bio-musical I’ve ever seen, not to mention one of the most impressive ensembles and truly extraordinary choreography. That they were beaten by a show that had absolutely nothing going for it other than being “original” is a shame. 

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Broadway’s “Memphis” 10 Years Later...#11
Posted: 10/19/19 at 3:49pm

I thought it was bad and just as problematic at the time. The Tony wins were inexplicable to me. Though, as others have pointed out, you need the context that it was a weak season. I thought Kimball's odd choices came through even on the cast album. But I'm glad for the exposure and success it brought Montego Glover and some others in the cast. To me that's the real legacy of the show.

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Broadway’s “Memphis” 10 Years Later...#12
Posted: 10/19/19 at 4:05pm

VintageSnarker said: "But I'm glad for the exposure and success it broughtMontego Glover and some others in the cast. To me that's the real legacy of the show."

 

I agree! Especially James Monroe Iglehart, who arguably had his initial breakout with that show. It's particularly significant because I think, in this industry, it's very rare for a plus-sized performer to be given the opportunity to show off their dancing and movement skills, and Memphis gave Iglehart that opportunity. And I'm sure it's no coincidence that he was then cast as the Genie, another physically demanding role. And the rest is history! 

 

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Broadway’s “Memphis” 10 Years Later...#13
Posted: 10/19/19 at 4:09pm

It’s my perception that Memphis won because it was indeed the most conventional of the nominees and at least in theory had the blueprint of what voters thought a Tony winning musical “should” be. American Idiot was too edgy with not much storyline (still better in my book that a problematic book) while Fela! was also maybe considered too unconventional and edgy (honestly, I’m not sure as I never got to see it).

Updated On: 10/19/19 at 04:09 PM
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Broadway’s “Memphis” 10 Years Later...#14
Posted: 10/19/19 at 6:35pm

I feel it won Best Musical for its appeal on tour(which toured for several years). I enjoyed the show a lot despite its slightly weak book. It had some amazing numbers and I'm still baffled that Sergio Trujillo didn't get a choreo Tony nom. Montego Glover was a weak link as Felicia and should have been replaced by Felicia Boswell who lead the tour. I notice it isn't produced much in regional theaters. A shame as the music is solid and worth a ticket.

 

As far as the other nominees, American Idiot didn't have commericial appeal. Fela! had no tour appeal & Million Dollar Quarter just wasn't good. It was a weak year for new musicals.

A Chorus Line revival played its final Broadway performance on August 17, 2008. The tour played its final performance on August 21, 2011. A new non-equity tour started in October 2012 played its final performance on March 23, 2013. Another non-equity tour launched on January 20, 2018. The tour ended its US run in Kansas City and then toured throughout Japan August & September 2018.
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Broadway’s “Memphis” 10 Years Later...#15
Posted: 10/19/19 at 7:07pm

I saw it on tour and really enjoyed it. I don't think it's the greatest musical of all time or anything like that but it really was fun and that counts for something. I personally liked the Huey I saw on tour (can't remember who it was) more than the filmed version I saw with Kimball. And "Steal Your Rock 'n' Roll" is such a crowd pleasing thrill. Whenever I hear that song to this day it makes me smile.

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Broadway’s “Memphis” 10 Years Later...#16
Posted: 10/19/19 at 7:51pm
The tour aspect of this is interesting. I feel like that hasn’t been as much of a factor in recent years. Or rather, it flipped, in the sense that the award now goes to shows that NEED the award in order to make money on tour.

Also, this is just my anecdotal experience, but back then I was living in San Francisco, and I recall seeing both American Idiot and Fela there. As far as I’m aware, Memphis never made it to San Francisco, which is interesting given that they usually got all the major Tony Winners.
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Broadway’s “Memphis” 10 Years Later...#17
Posted: 10/19/19 at 9:19pm

I saw the show in Broadway previews and about a year after it opened only because I took my nephew to a show every year for his birthday and in 2010, that's the show he wanted to see.  I tried to talk him into seeing something else, but he wanted to see Memphis.  It certainly wasn't a show I really wanted to see twice.  As many here mentioned, it's pedestrian and I found nothing compelling about the show.  I agree that it won the Tony in a weak year in a weak field. Yes, it showcased the talents of Montego Glover and James Monroe Iglehart, especially benefiting Iglehart.  In truth, I was surprised that the show ran for as long as it did, so it  must have had some appeal..  

I recall that Kimball's performance was quirkier the second time I saw the show.  He left the show because of nerve damage he suffered during a performance, but I don't recall any part of his performance that might have resulted in such damage.  Perhaps this damage resulted in the increased quirkiness.  There was talk that Kimball's struggles hitting notes and his uneven performances as time went on were the result of problems with addiction which is why he was absent from the stage for a few years after leaving the show, but I don't know that to be true.  

Updated On: 10/19/19 at 09:19 PM
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Broadway’s “Memphis” 10 Years Later...#18
Posted: 10/19/19 at 9:50pm
I forgot it was nominated against Fela. Fela was something else. I was lucky enough to see that one. Memphis was entertaining.
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Broadway’s “Memphis” 10 Years Later...#19
Posted: 10/19/19 at 10:56pm

ACL2006 said: "I feel it won Best Musical for its appeal on tour(which toured for several years). I enjoyed the show a lot despite its slightly weak book. It had some amazing numbers and I'm still baffled that Sergio Trujillo didn't get a choreo Tony nom. Montego Glover was a weak link as Felicia and should have been replaced by Felicia Boswell who lead the tour. I notice it isn't produced much in regional theaters. A shame as the music is solid and worth a ticket.



As far as the other nominees, American Idiot didn't have commericial appeal. Fela! had no tour appeal & Million Dollar Quarter just wasn't good. It was a weak year for new musicals.
"

I saw the show the night after it opened and got some excellent reviews from critics I respect.  The cast was ‘on’ and Montevideo Glover and Monroe stood out.  I have to question whether you even saw her...she seemed to be the high point that all the critics agreed on.

i actually enjoyed the show, but I never had any interest in seeing it again.  Clearly, I knew it was not too good.  I enjoyed Quartet, but still can’t conceive that it EVER would have been nominated for Best Musical.  Really didn’t enjoy  Fela, but I could see that it was extremely well-done.  It was just too foreign to me, particularly the score.   I never saw American Idiot...just didn’t think I’d like it.  
 

I have seen several winning musicals that I thought were not as good and / or enjoyable as Memphis.  Fosse was probably the most pretentious show I have ever seen...hated it.  I know I am in the minority, but I did not like Fun Home.  I was bored by Once.  Really disliked City of Angels after the novelty of the  gimmick wore off and i know I was not in the minority...witness its short run and half-empty houses for much of its run.  Titanic had a great opening scene and a good score, but was pretty low-energy for most of the show.  I thought Spamalot was the third best of the musicals that season.  The Big River was horrible unless you like Roger Miller Music...I don’t.  You could only look at the great set for so long.  
 

Don't get me started when It comes to Passion...one of the only Sondheim shows I did not love, and I really was bored out of my mind for most of the show.  I also thought Avenue Q was occasionally cute, but was happy when it was over...know this is a minority opinion, but I personally loved Wicked and CAROLINE, either one of which was robbed that year.   Can’t  remember the other nominee.  

I saw the original production of Applause, which I enjoyed, even though it was not very good, with Purlie and even Coco better IMO.  It was certainly no better than Memphis.  And if I want to think of another musical that I enjoyed, but which is no better than Memphis, I recall The Wiz.  Enjoyable, but forgettable, with about four good songs: Ease On Down the Road, If You Believe, Home and No Bad News.

Sure there are a couple of others, but I can’t remember off the top of my head.

 

 

 

At least Memphis was entertaining.  

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Broadway’s “Memphis” 10 Years Later...#20
Posted: 10/19/19 at 11:03pm

While his tics obviously grew, I saw it right near opening (I think late previews) and I honestly left that theatre still wondering if that character was supposed to have mental handicaps or deficiencies (apologies if those terms aren't correct). I truly disliked the show. The ending was a catchy ditty but it honestly ripped off so much from "You Can't Stop the Beat" and only reminded me of that much, much better show covering much of the same themes. 

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Broadway’s “Memphis” 10 Years Later...#21
Posted: 10/19/19 at 11:08pm

I eventually saw the tour and thought it was okay.  Prior, I tried watching when PBS had it on and turned it off after 15 minutes.  I couldn't tolerate Chad Kimball's performance.  Words can't describe how awful I thought it was.

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Broadway’s “Memphis” 10 Years Later...#22
Posted: 10/19/19 at 11:09pm

Jarethan said: "ACL2006 said: "I feel it won Best Musical for its appeal on tour(which toured for several years). I enjoyed the show a lot despite its slightly weak book. It had some amazing numbers and I'm still baffled that Sergio Trujillo didn't get a choreo Tony nom. Montego Glover was a weak link as Felicia and should have been replaced by Felicia Boswell who lead the tour. I notice it isn't produced much in regional theaters. A shame as the music is solid and worth a ticket.



As far as the other nominees, American Idiot didn't have commericial appeal. Fela! had no tour appeal & Million Dollar Quarter just wasn't good. It was a weak year for new musicals.
"

I saw the show the night after it opened and got some excellent reviews from critics I respect. The cast was ‘on’ and Montevideo Glover and Monroe stood out. I have to question whether you even saw her...she seemed to be the high point that all the criticsagreed on.

i actually enjoyed the show, but I never had any interest in seeing it again. Clearly, I knew it was not too good. I enjoyed Quartet, but still can’t conceive that it EVER would have been nominated for Best Musical. Really didn’t enjoyFela, but I could see that it was extremely well-done. It was just too foreign to me, particularly the score. I never saw American Idiot...just didn’t think I’d like it.


I have seen several winning musicals that I thought were not asgood and / or enjoyable as Memphis. Fosse was probably the most pretentious show I have ever seen...hated it. I know I am in the minority, butI did not like Fun Home. I was bored by Once. ReallydislikedCity of Angels after the novelty of the gimmick wore off and i know I was not in the minority...witness its short run and half-empty houses formuch of its run. Titanic had a greatopening scene and a good score, but was pretty low-energy formostof the show. I thought Spamalot was the third best of the musicals that season. The Big River was horribleunlessyou like Roger Miller Music...I don’t. You could only look at the great set for so long.


Don't get me started when It comes to Passion...one of the only Sondheim shows I did not love, and I really was bored out of my mind for most of the show. I also thought Avenue Q wasoccasionally cute, but was happy when it was over...know this is a minority opinion, but I personally loved Wicked and CAROLINE, either one of which was robbed that year. Can’tremember the other nominee.

I sawthe original production of Applause, which I enjoyed,even though it wasnot verygood, withPurlie and evenCoco better IMO. It was certainly no better than Memphis. And if I want to think of another musical that I enjoyed, but which isno better than Memphis, I recall The Wiz. Enjoyable, but forgettable, with about fourgood songs: Ease On Down the Road, If You Believe,Home and No Bad News.

Sure there are a couple of others, but I can’t remember off the top of my head.





At least Memphis was entertaining.
"

So agree about Passion.  I was bored out of my mind.  It is on my list of top three shows that I hated.

Updated On: 10/19/19 at 11:09 PM
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Broadway’s “Memphis” 10 Years Later...#23
Posted: 10/19/19 at 11:25pm
I saw the OBC and thought it was beautifully staged but really quite awful. I thought Glover was all wrong. Like THIS is the voice that is suppose to start all this?! Like she’s a fine singer but not to cause all this commotion. And the lyrics are downright awful. I had to learn a few songs for an audition and I was appalled at how obvious the lyrics are.
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Broadway’s “Memphis” 10 Years Later...#24
Posted: 10/19/19 at 11:41pm
Im going with ljays response, times 100. Pretty sure I broke the record for eye rolls at a single performance.
If we're not having fun, then why are we doing it? These are DISCUSSION boards, not mutual admiration boards. Discussion only occurs when we are willing to hear what others are thinking, regardless of whether it is alignment to our own thoughts.
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Broadway’s “Memphis” 10 Years Later...#25
Posted: 10/20/19 at 12:15am

I love Memphis, and watch it occasionally. I love that all of the principals (besides Chad who had to depart due to nerve damage) stayed the entire three year run. It was wonderful. I loved the sets, and lighting. Chad was in nearly every scene, and even though he was suffering for a lot the run, he continued to shine and just be brilliant in the part. Adam Pascal ruined it, even though he can sing, the fact that he refused to do any kind of accent, barely act, and annoyed the cast by going off script and really milking his songs was annoying.

HOCKADOOOOOOOOOOO!