Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
Review: MEMPHIS at Candlelight Music Theatre

Review: MEMPHIS at Candlelight Music Theatre

Memphis runs through October 30th.

Hockadoo! MEMPHIS, The Musical, running at Candlelight through October 30, is a compelling show in many respects. Memphis is the story of Huey Calhoun (loosely based on real-life 1950s disc jockey Dewey Phillips) and his mission to bring blues and soul music to a white southern audience in a VERY segregated Memphis. Huey optimistically believes that music can transcend race, and with him on his journey is aspiring singer Felicia Farrell. The two fall in love, but must contend with social barriers, a prejudiced mother, and an overprotective brother.

Devon Sinclair is the most talented, most creative, most dynamic Director/Choreographer Aisle Say has ever seen at Candlelight. I began reviewing in 1985. The vast majority of choreography is derivative, i.e. routines taken wholesale from former shows and transplanted. (Think Fosse's signature moves in CABARET or PIPPIN). Not so with Sinclair and his Co-Choreo Hallie Berger. The two create entirely original - and frankly - inspiring production numbers. MEMPHIS, BIG FISH and AIN'T MISBEHAVIN' rank in the top ten shows at this 50+ year barn in downtown Arden. It's almost an insult to call these productions 'community theatre". I've witnessed tens of touring shows at The Playhouse and too many one-two man shows at DTC. Many do not rise to the standard established by Sinclair, Berger, Kator (Light Design), Reim (Scenic Design), Cannon (Costumes) and Stacey (Wigs and Makeup). Music Director Garrick Vaughn is new but has an impressive professional resume.

Sinclair's reputation brings out the best talent in the region for auditions. There have been many new faces since he began his tenure here. He was there for BIG FISH, a few months back, an absolutely thrilling production. I complimented one of the dancers. "Devon brings out the best in us. It's never "oh, that's alright" with Devon. He makes us work until we achieve his concept". After opening night of MEMPHIS, I commented to Devon on his remarkable casting insight. "It's all part of the journey in finding the right players to elevate the vision".

Chris Fitting gives the performance of his life as Huey. Fitting considered this his dream role. He not only fulfilled his personal dream but also showered the audience with his estimable talent. At certain times in his performance, Aisle Say saw in his character Barnie Fife, Eminem, Axel Rose and Jerry Lewis. (Perhaps the only time in literary history that those four have appeared in the same sentence). Huey's first number, 'Music of My Soul", sets the stage for the man's life work. Ultimately though, Huey is unable to compromise his beliefs and he falls on his own petard.

With that song, sung at Delray's 'underground' bar, where white patrons are quickly shown the door. Huey connects with Felicia (Tiara Greene). Greene is elegant and poised. She brings a spark of toughness to her role as Felicia. She acts with a focused clarity and sings with intensity. Her "Someday", with the ensemble, evoked "And I Tell You I'm Not Going" from DREAMGIRLS.

Delray, Felicia's indefatigable brother (Malik Muhammad) has witnessed racism firsthand. He is a force to be reckoned with. There is no gray, only black and white with Delray. Muhammad creates a strong and towering stage presence (he's about 6'3", so that helps). Felicia has never kissed 'a cracker boy' and Delray wants it to remain that way! His bass baritone cascades over the audience in "She's My Sister", an epiphany of the reality and the tensions of Memphis (and the nation), 1951.

Gator (Bryan Jeffrey) is quickly becoming one of Aisle Say's favorite All Time triple threats. He was glorious in BIG FISH and a hilarious Sammy Davis, Jr clone in SWEET CHARITY. Gator doesn't have much to say during Act 1, but he brings down the house it its final scene, "Say A Prayer"....'change is comin', there's hope around the bend'.

Mr. Simmons (Steve Connor) is the radio station manager and contrarian nemesis to Huey. His slow burns and hysteria regarding Huey's behavior reminds one of the perpetual frustration of Paul Lynde's Mr. MacAfee in in the movie BYE BYE BIRDIE. Very funny!

Huey's mother, Gladys (Mae Burris), works hard at her ingrained bigotry in Act 1. In Act II, she sees the light and sings "Change Don't Come Easy", along with Delray, Gator and Bobby. The performance is a whole enchilada, rambunctious hoot. It inspires us and Gladys has the audience in her palm at the conclusion.

Matthew Kator's lighting is evocative and stunning. The smokey underground dance hall, the gobos, the many scenes he must contend with...they all create and enhance mood. The lighting is as much a player as are the actors. Kator reads the script and reacts to emotions on the page. The same with set designer Jeff Reim. The impossible task is that Candlelight's stage is impossibly small. Reim works wonders transforming the various scenes into viable and believable spaces.

The costumes by Cannon were period specific. Men wore suspenders in the 50's. The gold jackets on the men offset by the white on the women added glitz and glamour to the finale "Steal Your Rock 'N Roll".

Aisle Say wishes he could shout out to every performer. Certainly all of them are proud of this production. Huzzahs to Charlie Bensinger, Meghan Boyle, Carolyn Campbell, Piper Charlton, William Daniels, Nick Erholm, Anthony Flamminio, Tom Geiger, Nigel Grant, Myles Knight, Tyrone Lackey, Mikayla Nelson, Jermaine Fentriss, Hannah Sattazahn, Tess Sinatra, Monique Streety, Fatimah Washington and two of THE most athletic and mesmerizing dancers, Ryan Lauer and Jayson Brown. Those two gents are bats**t crazy.

MEMPHIS is an exuberant musical with aspiration and inspiration: sheer enthusiasm and gifted performers at the top of their game

Through Oct 30. 302.475.2313 CandlelightTheatreDelaware.org

Next up: November 18 - Irving Berlin'S WHITE CHRISTMAS


BroadwayWorld Logo Vote Now for the 2022 BroadwayWorld Delaware Awards
Vote Nowvoting ends in




From This Author - Greer Firestone

Greer Firestone has been reviewing professional theatre for 35 years. As a playwright he wrote and produced JUDY GARLAND "Wor... (read more about this author)


Review: IRVING BERLIN'S WHITE CHRISTMAS at Candlelight Music TheatreReview: IRVING BERLIN'S WHITE CHRISTMAS at Candlelight Music Theatre
November 28, 2022

After a stellar run of showstoppers and extraordinary, electric entertainment in 2022, Candlelight returns to the seasonal theme of sentimental and saccharine with Irving Berlin’s WHITE CHRISTMAS The Musical. Sentimentality and nostalgia are good. And, the venue is to be applauded for staging this show. It’s good box office. IRVING BERLIN'S WHITE CHRISTMA at Candlelight Music Theatre.

Previews: HAIRSPRAY at The PlayhousePreviews: HAIRSPRAY at The Playhouse
November 21, 2022

When it opened on Broadway in 2002, HAIRSPRAY won an extraordinary eight Tony awards. Its popularity has never waned and the tour will visit The Playhouse on December 1-4.

Review: MEMPHIS at Candlelight Music TheatreReview: MEMPHIS at Candlelight Music Theatre
October 9, 2022

What did our critic think oHockadoo! MEMPHIS, The Musical, running at Candlelight through October 30, is a compelling show in many respects. Memphis is the story of Huey Calhoun (loosely based on real-life 1950s disc jockey Dewey Phillips) and his mission to bring blues and soul music to a white southern audience in a VERY segregated Memphis. Huey optimistically believes that music can transcend race, and with him on his journey is aspiring singer Felicia Farrell. The two fall in love, but must contend with social barriers, a prejudiced mother, and an overprotective brother. f MEMPHIS at Candlelight Music Theatre?

Interview: Payton Reilly from TOOTSIE at The PlayhouseInterview: Payton Reilly from TOOTSIE at The Playhouse
October 2, 2022

It was with some trepidation that I began my interview with Payton Reilly, star of TOOTSIE, the musical set to begin a 3 day run at The Playhouse on October 6. One of Payton’s acting credits was an off Broadway production of WILD WOMEN OF PLANET WONGO. How does one prepare for this? Is there a language of wongoise?

Feature: DE ROCK N ROLL HALL OF FAME INDUCTION at The Baby GrandFeature: DE ROCK N ROLL HALL OF FAME INDUCTION at The Baby Grand
September 12, 2022

Back in 2016, it only took a Facebook page to show that everyone wanted to 'keep the faith with the music, the faces and the memories'. The quote is from Paula Wolkind, Executive Director of Delaware Rock and Roll Society Hall of Fame. Her husband, George serves as President. The 501©3 non-profit is gearing up for an induction ceremony on Sunday October 9 at the baby grand @ 2pm.