Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Memphis (The SOB Review)

Memphis (The SOB Review) - Shubert Theatre, New York, New York

*** (out of ****)

If you like seeing all your money up on the stage, run, don't walk, to see Joe DiPietro and David Bryan's rhythmically-infused Memphis. With a whole heck of a lot of hockadoo, it's almost impossible to contain.

With slick, fast-paced direction from Christopher Ashley, rousing and impeccable cast, tuneful score, sizzling choreography (Sergio Trujillo) and a visually stunning scenic design (David Gallo) that's augmented with equally astonishing projections (Gallo and Shawn Sagady), Memphis is a dazzling destination worth the trip.

This original musical recounts the story of an outlandish white deejay Huey Calhoun (Chad Kimball) who attempts to mainstream Beale Street's rhythm and blues and in the process falls in love with one of its top singing denizens Felicia Ferrell (Montego Glover), who happens to be black. Set against the segregated fifties, that makes Huey both a musical pioneer and a trailblazer in flouting the era's ridiculous laws against what was shamefully referred to as miscegenation.

DiPietro brilliantly captures the inherent danger of this time in Tennessee all too well. The risk of two individuals of different colors kissing, let alone even holding hands, could result in tremendous injury or worse. And given the world headlines one neanderthal justice of the peace in Louisiana recently garnered for refusing to marry one such couple, not to mention the ongoing debate over another type of marriage, Memphis resonates on so many levels.

If the second act doesn't exactly measure up to the thoroughly captivating first, it's because it becomes confoundingly incongruous, particularly via a conclusion that defies credulity. And while the story may have you thinking Dreamgirls for its depiction of the rise of R&B and Hairspray for its forthright bridging of our nation's racial divide, Memphis is, if not entirely fresh, a solid crowd pleaser that will have you cheering nevertheless.

Two principal reasons are Kimball and Glover. When I last saw Kimball, he was portraying Milky White -- a cow, no less -- in the wonderful 2002 revival of Into the Woods. Although he's had two other Broadway roles since, Memphis enables him to truly prove his mettle and then some. With a folksy swagger that's a bit reminiscent of Christian Slater, Kimball's Huey is a great ball of fire who can't be extinguished. Then there's Glover's Felicia in which we witness an amazing ascent both for a captivating character and an immensely impassioned new Broadway star. Glover took my breath away.

It's been said that at the very heart of the genre known as rock and roll, you'll find soul. Fortunately, the boundless soul within Memphis has the power to rock your heart.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 03 November, 2009, Blogger Vance said...

Yay! We're pretty much on the same page! Glover and Kimball were glorious! And the show was far better than I expected. Still flawed, but terrifically entertaining.

At 03 November, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Yes, Vance! I agree. While flawed, it really is terrifically entertaining.

At 03 November, 2009, Blogger Unknown said...

I have been waiting for your review with baited breath. So glad you loved it. I agree the second act is a bit weaker than the first. But unlike you, I don't find the 2nd act unbelievable, I think Huey is convinced that he will be a small fish in a big pond in NYC and in Memphis at that moment he is the big fish in a small pond. It is inconceivable to him that he won't retain his popularity...as we know Huey is a bit short sighted....at least that is my take on it.

Like you I love Chad and Montego...and the rest of the cast, i am sure you will agree is superlative.

At 03 November, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Raellen, I try never giving away too much about a show, but my two primary quibbles with the show are as follows.

First, while I never doubted for a second that Huey loved Felicia, I did not believe he would jeopardize his relationship for a televised kiss. Second, his stage appearance at her concert seemed designed pure and simple as a feel-good moment meant to leave the audience feeling happy.

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the production and recommend seeing it. And you're right, the entire cast is superb.

At 03 November, 2009, Blogger Unknown said...

I understand your quibbles, my take, and perhaps, I am stretching it a bit is that he kissed her on TV as an attempt to prove to her that the world was ready for that. His fear of leaving Memphis is papable, so I thought it was last ditch attempt before losing her to the big city and all that it has to offer.

I hope you don't mind that I posted your review on Memphis' facebook page and on my facebook page.

Thanks for the review. I enjoy reading your twitters.

At 03 November, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Thanks Raellen!

To be honest, I was mystified by some of the reviews. It's much better than some give it credit for.


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