Book and Lyrics by Joe DiPietro
Music and Lyrics by David Bryan
Based on a Concept by George W. George
Starring: Chad Kimball and Montego Glover
Derrick Baskin, J. Bernard Calloway
James Monroe Iglehart, Michael McGrath
And an Ensemble of Actors/Singers/Dancers
Director: Christopher Ashley
Choreographer: Sergio Trujillo
Music Producer/Music Supervisor: Christopher Jahnke
Sam S. Shubert Theatre
A Shubert Organization Theatre
225 West 44th Street
Scenic Design: David Gallo
Costume Design: Paul Tazewell
Lighting Design: Howell Binkley
Sound Design: Ken Travis
Projection Design: David Gallo & Shawn Sagady
Production Supervisor: Steven Zweigbaum
Wig & Hair Design: Charles G. LaPointe
Fight Director: Steve Rankin
Casting: Telsey + Company
Associate Choreographer: Kelly Devine
Orchestrations: Daryl Waters & David Bryan
Musical Director: Kenny J. Seymour
Dance Arrangements: August Eriksmoen
Music Contractor: Michael Keller
Production Stage Manager: Arturo E. Porazzi
General Manager: Alchemy Production Group
Karl Pasbjerg & Frank Scardino
Production Management: Juniper Street Productions, Inc.
Press Representatives: The Hartman Group
Marketing Direction: Type A Marketing/Anne Ripley
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 25, 2009
Joe DiPietro and David Bryan have a hit on their hands, and so does New York. What a great matinee at the Shubert Theatre, with actors who can act, dance, and really sing, with clear, rich vocals, impassioned chemistry, and scenes that make you laugh, cry, lean forward, and jump for joy at the curtain. All season long I’ve been lamenting about film and television stars usurping Broadway roles, just for ticket surges, and Memphis proves my theory, with a stunning cast drenched in the theatre community, and no big Hollywood names. Chad Kimball is Huey Calhoun, a 1950’s Memphis radio DJ, who embraces rhythm and blues on Beale Street, in a black nightclub, run by a charismatic crowd who cautiously welcome him, too, into their world.
Montego Glover is Felicia, the Club’s shining vocalist and sister of the Club’s owner, Delray (J. Bernard Calloway), who fears trouble from Huey early on. Race relations in 1950’s Tennessee are predictably violent, unforgiving, and deeply embedded. Gator (Derrick Baskin) is a bartender at the Club, mute from psychic trauma, and as warm and sensitive as all the remarkable leads. Bobby (James Monroe Iglehart), who sweeps floors at the radio station, turns out to be an over-the-top dancer, a large guy with a large personality. Cass Morgan is Huey’s white, prejudiced Mama, who ultimately finds gospel herself, and jumps on the rockin’ and rollin’ bandwagon. And, Michael McGrath is Mr. Simmons, who runs the station, and is locked out of the DJ booth, while Huey plays “race music”, as it was called.
Ms. Glover and Mr. Kimball exude palpable chemistry in “Ain’t Nothin’ But a Kiss”, and again in “Love Will Stand…”. Of course, there’s the requisite racial beating, against this mixed race couple, but Joe DiPietro’s book has poignancy, ardor, and vitality. The audience was mesmerized throughout. DiPietro and Bryan shared credit for the lyrics, and Bryan’s music, while not hummable, was melodically charged, ebullient, and zesty. Sergio Trujillo worked wonders with a sizeable ensemble, and his choreography was athletic, adorable, and filled with attitude. A few solo dances even brought the house down. David Gallo’s spectacular sets invited us right into the Beale Street Club, a radio station, a dark street, Mama’s kitchen, and Felicia and Huey’s live shows. It’s so rare to anticipate so much, during the brief intermission, to want more of Ms. Glover’s unique musicality and more of Mr. Kimball’s cognac-infused crooning. Just to see and hear this duo perform was a gift.
Christopher Ashley directed with an eye for the gestalt, the characters seamlessly weaving plot, dance, and songs, so effortlessly, so joyfully. Paul Tazewell’s costumes never distract and are cleverly designed for time and culture. Ken Travis’ sound should be mentioned for perfect pitch, solid and clear, and no tinny reverberations, while Howell Binkley’s lighting adds a brilliant glow, with warm spotlights as needed. Kenny J. Seymour conducts the orchestra, for dynamism and pizzazz. The romantic, interracial theme is generously embracing, and the final notes of “Steal Your Rock ‘n’ Roll” bring the company together and the audience to its feet. Kudos to Joe DiPietro, David Bryan, Christopher Ashley, Chad Kimball, Montego Glover, and the entire production of Memphis for this energizing experience.
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