A Chain of Musicals: MEMPHIS


To purchase MEMPHIS on Blu-ray, click on the image above.

In January, Musical Cyberspace is going to work through a chain of musicals. This is how it works: each day I will discuss, in brief, a musical linked to the previous day’s musical by some kind of common ground. It follows then, that if you – dear reader – liked the previous day’s show, then you might enjoy the current day’s show. Comments, as alway, are welcome!

If you like The Boys in the Photograph, then you might like Memphis.

The Boys in the Photograph and Memphis both deal with the effects of prejudice, although in different specific situations, and in both shows there are violent consequences for the characters, with characters getting beaten up close to the end of the first act in both shows. Both shows also feature a score that is heavily influenced by popular music, although this is of course what Memphis is all about.

Set in the 1950s, Memphis introduces us to Huey Calhoun, a character based on Dewey Phillips who was one of the first white DJs to play black music on the radio. Behind the mike and in his daily life, he is something of a hillbilly on amphetamines, but his crazy persona attracts the attention of Felicia Farrell, a singer he met at a black underground Rock and Roll bar called Delray’s. On the segregated streets of Memphis, the pair face a great deal of trouble – but what happens when the opportunity to for both of them to grow their careers into the national arena is what takes us to the final curtain. Highlights include “Everybody Wants to be Black on Saturday Night”, “Love Will Stand When All Else Falls”, “Someday”, “Say a Prayer” and “Change Don’t Come Easy”.

Memphis is a emotional powerhouse of a show. It’s a show that catches you almost off guard. You watch the story, you listen to the songs – and then all of a sudden you’re crying at the end of the first act. Although the second act never quite matches the emotional journey of the first act, the show still offers a fine experience for its audiences. The score by Bon Jovi’s David Bryan works well with Joe DiPietro’s book, although the lyrics aren’t perfectly crafted at times (lots of half-rhymes) and there are times when the are inexplicable lapses in logic when it comes to the line between what’s diegetic and what’s not – a border that has to be negotiated in any musical that deals with performance. Perhaps it is most jarring in the opening number when Felicia, while singing on stage in the number, “Underground”, starts to narrate her life story. Better handled are the appearances of the singers when Huey plays his records, but this remains one aspect of the show that wasn’t interrogated thoroughly enough by its writers. Don’t let that put you off though: with a good cast and a solid staging, as it had in it’s Broadway premiere, Memphis is a solid piece of entertainment.

So, now it’s time to share your thoughts on Memphis. And what shows would you suggest to fans of this show? See which one we’ll feature here tomorrow…

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