BWW Reviews: Street Theatre Company's MEMPHIS
Street Theatre Company has brought a little bit of Memphis to Music City with their production of Memphis: The Musical. The show opened Friday night at Street Theatre Company's new location, Bailey Middle School. This is the first regional production in Tennessee since the touring Broadway production ended.
Memphis: The Musical brings the sounds of the late 50s and early 60s, many of which originated in Memphis, to the stage. With a book by Joe DiPietro and music and lyrics by David Bryan and Joe DiPietro, and locally directed by Cathy Street, the cast is led by Curtis Reed as DJ Huey Calhoun and Lauren Jones as Felicia.
Memphis: The Musical centers around white DJ Huey Calhoun (fictional version the real DJ Dewy Phillips) and his love of "race music" that wasn't played on popular radio. Huey finds himself spending time on Beale Street in Memphis, where he meets Felicia, a black singer and sister of bar owner, Delray.
While Memphis: The Musical tells the story of Huey and Felicia, it really tells the story of Memphis (and the rest of the South) during the 60s. Times were changing, injustice was rampant, and the tensions between the black and white communities were everywhere.
Curtis Reed gives a believable performance of Huey, embracing the Southern rebel and charm that Huey needs. Huey could be seen as crazy, and completely out of his mind in his desire to stay in Memphis, but for those of us from the South, we've all seen that same attitude in many around us. So many people would never leave their hometown; Huey is just another example of that "every-man."
Lauren Jones brings beauty, grace and talent to the character of Felicia. In spite of all of the things that tell her she shouldn't care for Huey, she does. Her struggles are real and Jones brings depth and emotion to the painful and heartbreaking journey that is Felicia's story.
Jones and Reed are supported by a top-notch cast, including Bakari King as Delray, Felicia's brother, Donald E. Carter III as Gator, and Emily Dennis as Gladys Calhoun, Huey's mother. King brought much emotion to Delray, including Delray's struggle to protect his sister, and his community from the horrors he had known in his life. Dennis brought both comedy and emotional depth to Gladys Calhoun, who fought her son's relationship with Felicia, and his love of the community she had been taught to fear.
Bakari King also doubled as choreographer for the production, and it was beautiful to behold. Many times, I see choreography that struggles to look natural and King had no problems fitting the choreography into the show with ease and beauty. It was exciting to watch the group dance numbers; at times I wanted to get up and dance with the cast. Set design by Caleb Burke tied the show together and took the audience back to a time when the atmosphere was darker and bleaker.
Truth be known, I watched the filmed Broadway production of Memphis: The Musical and found myself more annoyed with it than anything. Street Theatre Company has taken all of that away and presented Nashville with a show that anyone could enjoy. Laughter, toe-tapping, and more than a few tears were making their way through the audience on Friday night, and I was right along with them.
Memphis: The Musical plays at Bailey Middle School through March 29th. In celebration of Street Theatre Company's 10th anniversary season, they are even offering a pay-what-you-can season. Take the opportunity to pay whatever you can and get out to see this amazing production. You can purchase tickets on their website.
Street Theatre Company says this about ticket prices on their website: "Last season, STC ticket prices were between $18 and $24. Most Nashville area small companies charge between $15 and $30 a ticket. We'd appreciate if you can land in that range. If you try us out and we exceed your expectations, you can always pay extra as you leave."