In the early 1950s, Memphis-born Huey (Bryan Fenkart) is an illiterate young white man who can't keep a job. His adventures begin when he visits an underground Beale street club and is promptly thrown out; but not before he professes his love for Rock and Roll and Rhythm and Blues music.
Club owner Delray (Horace V. Rogers) and his sister Felicia (Felicia Boswell) are intrigued by this strange young man, she warns him to stay away and Delray just doesn't want a white man in his club at all. Not long after, Huey's about to lose his job at a local department store, but convinces his boss to give him one more chance by playing records in the music department. His ploy works, until he's fired for playing "race records."
He finds solace at Delray's club, where he becomes a regular and takes a liking to Felicia, much to the chagrin of Delray. He promises her that he will get her music on mainstream radio even though he has absolutely no prospects in sight. She laughs him off, but Huey is determined and finds a way to get R&B music on the air at a local Memphis station.
Again, Huey's chance pays off: listeners like his music and he's given a trial run as a disc jockey. He's also hopelessly in love with Felicia and helps her to find success as a singer through appearances on a local television show. But can they find personal and professional happiness in their racially-divided hometown? That's eventually the question that "Memphis" must resolve.
The show, which closed on Broadway last spring after a run of 1,166 performances, won Tony Awards for its score and book (the book and lyrics are by Joe DiPietro and the music by Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan). The score contains any number of
snappy and catchy numbers, and there's amazing choreography by Sergio Trujillo
As for the performances, Fenkart and Boswell are nothing less than electrifying. Fenkart is full of the energy needed to convey his passion for both the new style of music he's championed and for the woman he loves; Boswell bring the house down with an incredible voice with "Colored Woman" and "Love Will Stand When All Else Fails."
Julie Johnson as Mama also brings down the house with her number "Change Don't Come Easy." The production is highlighted by the period sets and costumes; we are immersed in the fifties and even the TV cameras broadcast Huey's show on large screens in black and white. There's even a flash mob of hundreds of teenagers flooding the theater at the end of the production. Memphis totally delivers.
Memphis played through Dec.9th at Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset Street #2 in Providence.
e. For info or tickets call 401-421-ARTS (2787) or visit www.ppac.org.