Review: Memphis The Musical at Shubert Theatre

Review: Memphis The Musical at Shubert Theatre

Playing Broadway’s Shubert Theatre, ‘Memphis The Musical’ takes a look at the smoldering cauldron of race and rock ‘n roll nestled in the deep south at the start of the 50s. The story focuses on down on his luck, music lover Huey Calhoun (Chad Kimball) who hangs out on the wrong side of Memphis to take in the rhythm and blues that spill out onto Beale Street. While his white skin is swiveling heads in the underground nightclubs, his heart begins to flutter when he hears the silky sweet voice of Felicia (Montego Glover). The intoxication makes him instantly forget about the law and ignore the limitations of their time. He’s hell bent on making her a star and capturing her love.

Huey seems to live his life swimming upstream, living with his mom and getting fired from the local 5 & dime. Throughout it call, he clings to his passion for music and that unchecked desire begins opening doors in unconventional places. In Huey’s bleach white world, he spreads the gospel of ‘colored’ music wherever he goes. He stumbles into a R&B DJ gig that allows him to have a voice and express his dream through music as all of Memphis listens along. His new outlet also enables him to foster the budding voice of Felicia, and be able to cement her name into the Memphis scene.

Unfortunately, all does not come up roses. The deep south isn’t very accepting of change, and the spread of rhythm and blues goes over like a fart in church. Huey bucks convention at every turn, but the good ol’ boy redneck constituency are intent to keep this rabble rouser in his place by any means necessary.

‘Memphis’ is a powder keg of emotional charge, book ended with a love fighting for its fragile life and for a race patiently rising up against its oppressors. It is a raw look at dreams growing within the confines of a pot. The cast is spot on perfect. Chad Kimball unwraps the right amount of crazy to sell the unconventional Huey, and Montego Glover has a beautiful voice that effortlessly sells Huey’s passion. The vocals are bold and highlight the David Bryan (Bon Jovi keyboardist) score.

‘Memphis’ is very authentic and genuine. You feel these characters and their tireless struggle to circumvent their stifling circumstances. While the period musical retrospective isn’t exactly revolutionary on Broadway (‘DreamGirls’, “Jersey Boys”), ‘Memphis’ brings to the table the rich racial undertones that really make this a powerful story and musical. It is a sensuous look at a ugly scar on our nation’s history that doesn’t feel the need for apology or sugar coating.

“Memphis The Musical” Broadway Opening
October 18, 2009

“Memphis The Musical” Cast
Chad Kimball (Huey), Montego Glover (Felicia), J. Bernard Calloway (Delray), Derrick Baskin (Gator), James Monroe Iglehart (Bobby), John Jellison (Mr. Simmons), Nancy Opel (Mamma)

Shubert Theatre
225 West 44th Street, New York, NY 10036

Author: Mark Runyon