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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 28, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 39
Memphis comes home
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Memphis comes home

The award-winning Broadway musical returns to its Seattle roots

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

MEMPHIS: THE MUSICAL
5TH AVENUE THEATRE
Through October 7


They say that you can never go home again. If indeed that is true, then Memphis is the exception to the rule. The Tony Award-winning musical actually debuted in Seattle at the 5th Avenue Theatre in 2009, and after many workshops made its way to Broadway. Now Memphis has come home - in a big, triumphant way. If you saw it at the 5th in its pre-Broadway days, you owe yourself a look at what it has since become.

The story is loosely based on the true story of a disc jockey who was one of the first white radio personalities to promote and play black music. Huey Calhoun is an uneducated, illiterate Memphis boy who stumbles into an all-black club when he hears the voice of an incredible singer, Felicia Farrell. Despite the racial tension of the 1950s South, and against the wishes of both Huey's mother and Felicia's brother (and club owner), Delray, the two start a romantic relationship. Huey becomes a disc jockey and the music he plays infuriates the adults but delights the kids, and his career takes off. First he becomes the town's premier radio personality, and then he is offered his own television show. When he refuses to succumb to racial prejudices, a line is drawn between himself and Felicia.

Bryan Fenkart and Felicia Boswell are the two leads of this show and they are amazing. There's a subtle chemistry between them that makes it easy for the audience to accept their characters and that makes it a pleasure to watch their interactions. Fenkart is a chameleon when it comes to his character. By pulling on an accent and using his body with a certain gait and movements, he positively transforms into Huey Calhoun - a character he understudied on Broadway. His voice is strong and is easily understood even when he uses the unique accent that the part requires. When he does the 11 o'clock number -Memphis Lives in Me,- the strength of his voice is undisputable and leaves the ear ringing in the best of ways. He gives off a personality on stage that allows the audience to become endeared to this uneducated and completely charming character. Fenkart allows his character's passions - music and the woman in his life - to shine brightly.

It is hard not to like the charismatic singer Felicia Farrell (played by Felicia Boswell). The character has a youthful speaking voice but a powerful singing instrument. When she speaks her soft demeanor draws in the audience and when she takes a breath to sing, we brace ourselves for the power she possesses. She can vocally handle the soft bouncy -Someday,- the bluesy -Colored Woman,- or the rocked-out opening number, -Underground,- with the grace and emotion each one deserves. Her timing when turning from simple charm to sass to songstress to seductress is perfect, and is done with such ease that she is a true pleasure to watch on stage.

The rest of the cast is all very good as well. Julie Johnson (as Mama), Horace V. Rogers (as Delray), and William Parry (as radio station owner Mr. Simmons) all do fantastic jobs in their roles. Johnson's comedic timing as the bigoted mother who learns and grows excels in her own song, -Change Don't Come Easy.- Rogers' appearance as protective brother Delray is performed very well. His concern for his sister is easily identified with, and the audience understands his hesitancy to allow Felicia to pursue her career and her risky romance. Parry does a great job as the radio station owner who is conflicted between his traditional Southern beliefs and the success that is brought to him by crossing racial boundaries. The dancers and singers all perform well and the show owes part of its success to this talented ensemble.

Memphis got its start in Seattle at the 5th Avenue Theatre. Through several workshops and audience feedback the show was crafted and shaped, continually morphing until it opened on Broadway on September 23, 2009, playing for more than 1,160 performances until the end of its run in August 2012. It was nominated for eight Tony Awards in 2010 (including Best Leading Actor and Best Leading Actress) and won four, including Best Musical. The 5th Avenue Theatre's Tony statue for Memphis is proudly displayed in the lobby.

Washington United for Marriage

presents

-It's About Time-

an evening of music and dance to benefit the Approve R-74 campaign for marriage equality featuring the National Touring Company of Memphis with DJ Greg Vandy (KEXP & American Standard Time)

Monday, October 1, 7 p.m.

Neumos

925 E. Pike St., Seattle
$15 advance (21+ only)
Tickets on sale at Moe Bar and at etix.com

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