Dr. Blackwell's BLOG

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Theater Review: Broadway’s MEMPHIS

Filed under: Performing Arts — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 00:54


Last week, I had the opportunity to finally see one of my all-time favorite Broadway shows LIVE in New York City. MEMPHIS, the winner of the 2010 Tony Award for Best Musical, was filmed live on Broadway and streamed into movie theaters about a year ago and I had the opportunity to see the show then. I also bought the Blu-Ray of the show and have watched it countless times. But, this visit to NYC marked the first time I was able to actually see it live on stage. Needless to say, I was NOT disappointed. This show absolutely rocks in every sense of the word and depicts a truly powerful and historically-inspired story that really rips at the heart. The show centers on Felicia (played masterfully by Tony Nominee Montego Glover), a young black bar singer with an amazing voice with a talent just waiting to be discovered. And discovered it is, by young emerging white DJ Huey Calhoun (played by Adam Pascal), who is attempting to mainstream black music as “Rock ‘n Roll” on the radio.

Black culture, wonderfully displayed by an incredibly talented ensemble, is depicted as it both clashes and integrates with white culture, which is also depicted by the unbelievably talented ensemble. Felicia’s brother (played very well in this performance by stand-in Christopher Jackson) is trying to steer her to stardom while Huey is cultivating her for a career led by him in Memphis. The two fall in-love in a time when racial tensions in the South were at an all-time high; and interracial love was an absolute social taboo. Huey’s mother (played by Nancy Opel) is also unaccepting of the two’s courtship and like society at large, is experiencing a change that may be a little too rapid for comfort. MEMPHIS has an all-star cast of stellar performers, led of course by Glover, who’s dynamic voice and ability to show every nuance of her character makes her truly worthy of the praise she has received.

Pascal passes as Calhoun; but he pales in the shadow of the original actor who played the role, Chad Kimball, who unexpectedly had to leave the show in October of 2011 after suffering nerve damage. Kimball played the role flawlessly and like Glover, essentially invented the role at its inception at La Jolla.  I give Pascal credit for attempting to give the role a unique and individualized interpretation; but he acts the role, whereas Kimball was a complete natural. Even with Pascal’s different portrayal of Calhoun, MEMPHIS is one of the best musicals to ever grace the Broadway stage and I am unbelievably grateful for being given the opportunity to see it. The music and moving story of love, acceptance, personal growth, and evolution of understanding and tolerance of changing social mores makes an amazing impact on the spirit. My only hope is that in the future, I get the opportunity to see Chad Kimball reprise his role as Huey Calhoun in the show. But if that day never comes (thankfully, I can watch it whenever I want on Blu-Ray), that’s okay. Because this show will always be remembered as one of my theatrical favorites.


  1. Saw the show 3 times…2x with Chad and last week with Adam…and thank goodness for the film. Adam is a great performer but Chad is Huey and his performance may well be the most outstanding I’ve seen on Broadway. I couldn’t keep my eyes off him. So much soul. The last time I saw the show, I was finally able to watch the other extremely talented performers. Let’s hope Huey returns at some point and Memphis has very long well deserved run. Best show I may have ever seen. David Byrne must continue to write music. Every song in this show is great. The perfect musical has finally arrived!

    Comment by teri — Tuesday, April 3, 2012 @ 17:38

  2. I totally agree with your assessment Teri. Memphis is AWESOME! But Chad is Huey!

    Comment by Dr. Christopher Blackwell — Saturday, April 7, 2012 @ 01:07

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