PICKSINSIX Review: MEMPHIS
"THE BIRTH OF ROCK AND ROLL."
Something in the water … There are a lot of reasons for you to run to see MEMPHIS, the exhilarating new Porchlight Music Theatre production directed by Daryl Brooks that opened Wednesday at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts. One is certainly the charismatic performance of Liam Quealy as Huey Calhoun, a character inspired by the life and career of Memphis DJ and personality Dewey Phillips. Another is the radiant and explosive Aerial Williams in the role of Felicia Farrell. Then there is an amazing company of talented dancers, singers, actors, and musicians who are non-stop great! Maybe there is something in the water at PMT these days. They've done it again. MEMPHIS is a SMASH!
Embraces R&B music … Part revolutionary, part rebel, Quealy’s Calhoun oozes with the kind of passion that drives a dream - a crusader who rejects stereotypes, fights bigotry, racism and the segregation of the era in which he lived. Against the odds, he embraces R&B music as a way of bringing people together, first on the radio, and then on television. As this engaging, often dark and richly soul-filled journey unfolds in Calhoun’s 1950s Memphis, what we are really seeing is the birth of rock and roll.
On the radio … From his musical awakening in a black nightclub on Beale Street with “The Music In My Soul” and falling for Felicia, we follow Calhoun through his unlikely success as a D.J in a department store and eventually on the radio extolling his commitment to African-American music. Along the way, Williams thrills with the poignant “Ain’t Nothin’ But a Kiss” with Quealy, “Colored Woman” and “Love Will Stand When All Else Fails”.
Musical revolution ... The bittersweet love story inevitably leads to rejection and reprisals. Felicia’s brother, nightclub owner Delray Jones (Lorenzo Rush, Jr.) sees only trouble and Huey’s mom, Gladys (Nancy Wagner) experiences hate firsthand. Through it all, Huey single-mindedly pursues what is right until his own musical revolution - and rebellious nature – wear him out. Rush makes the role of Delray all his own and in Bobby, the triple-threat talents of James Earl Jones II are on full and glorious display. Gator finds his voice in fine form from Gilbert Domally.
What to watch and wait for … so many spirited, high-energy company numbers including “Scratch My Itch” … “Everybody Wants to Be Black On A Saturday Night” … “Someday” and “Stand Up” … Rush’s powerful “She’s My Sister” … Jones at his best in “Big Love” ... Christopher Carter & Reneisha Jenkins dynamic choreography ... be sure to lean in and listen every time Williams steps up to the microphone.
Porchlight motto … fulfilling the Porchlight motto - “american musicals. chicago style” - in rousing fashion, MEMPHIS completes the 23rd season for the company and the first in their new home at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts. MEMPHIS has already been extended to June 10th, but don’t wait a moment longer to see this show.