BWW Reviews: MEMPHIS at the Kennedy Center is mmmmmmmmm Marvelous!

By: Jun. 18, 2012
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When you attend a Broadway show and you hear the following announcement, "At this performance, the part of .......will be played by ......" Then you hear the groans.

That happened to me (without the groan) the first time I saw Memphis on Broadway two years ago when it was announced that the leading role of Felicia was going to played by a real Felicia, one Felicia Boswell.  Wouldn't  you know Boswell stole the hearts of everyone in the theater that night and was deservedly given a standing ovation.

What a nice surprise to see that Boswell is now stealing the hearts of theatergoers nationwide as she has taken on the role of Felicia on the Memphis tour and she didn't disappoint. She's an absolutely amazing performer who is a triple threat and  who I predict has a great future on Broadway.

The leading male lead in Memphis was originally played by the great Chad Kimball who received a Tony nomination for his role as Huey Calhoun who is a high school dropout, lives with his mother, has a hard time keeping employment, but discovers the blues at a Black nightclub in the famous Beale Street section of Memphis.  I found Kimball's performance way over the top, somewhat creepy and his southern drawl accent often annoying. 

Playing the role on the tour is Bryan Fenkart who in my opinion gives a more restrained yet understandable take on the role. Fenkart has a great voice and uses it well.  He also demonstrates an authentic  love for his discovered talent, Felicia.  He really shines in the finale when he sings his heart out during "Memphis Lives in Me".

The score by Bon Jovi keyboard player David Bryan is infectious. Do yourself a favor a buy the CD so you can sing along (silently) during the show because after you see the show you're going to want to listen to it again and again. The pulsating score is packed with great ballads, blues,  a little bit of gospel, and some rock.

To accompany the music, choreographer Sergio Trujillo has assembled great dancers who jump, spin, kick, and fly all over the stage.

The story involves Huey's attempt to mainstream Black music into Memphis radio land and to move the blues from the far right end of the radio dial (where small stations broadcast) to the middle of the radio dial where White radio predominates.  This is the 1950's where there were White only water fountains and restrooms.  And to complicate matters, Huey falls in love with Felicia  and in Tennessee for a Black to be with a White was not acceptable.

So there's a compelling message here. There's also great music, great theater and an exuberant group of actors who look like they're having the time of their lives.

Director Christopher Ashley does a superb job with great material. He's aided by clever costumes by the amazing  Paul Tazewell, terrific lighting by Howell Binkley, superb sound by Ken Travis (not an easy achievement here) and clever projection design by David Gallo and Shawn Sagady.

The on stage nine piece orchestra plays their hearts out under conductor/keyboard 1 Alvin Hough, Jr.  They include Darryl Archibald (Associate Conductor/Keyboard 2), Trevor Holder (Drums), Dave Matos (Guitar), Enzo Penizzotto (Bass), Dave Detwiler (Trumpet/Flugelhorn), Victor Barranco (Tenor and Bass Trombone), David Jones (Alto Sax/Flute), and Ed Walters (Tenor and Baritone Sax/Bass Clarinet).

A bit of advice...don't leave early. You can expect a nice coda at the end of the show. You'll have to see the show to understand the "mmmmmmmmmm."

You only have until July 1 so order your tickets now at 202-467-4600 or visit Visit for behind-the-scenes news and special events. Follow @kencenon Twitter.

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And what a summer for musical theater in DC. Xanadu,which is now playing a successful run at the Signature Theatre and to make it a perfect trifecta, you will also love the Arena Stage's The Music Man. See these reviews elsewhere on BroadwayWorld.

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Photo credit: Joan Marcus


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