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‘Memphis’ tells early story of Rock and Roll

January 4, 2012
By Sara Reed , The Herald-Star

The thunderous and tuneful sounds of rock 'n' roll escorted out 2011 and brought in the New Year as "Memphis," the most recent touring production of the Broadway Series season, completed its short stay at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh.

Boasting an intensely emotionally engaging story of scorned love, the beckoning of dreams and a score of uproariously stirring rhythms of the 1950s' most unorthodox genre, and composed by Bon Jovi-famed David Bryan, "Memphis" was an immensely satisfying theatrical piece for the mind and the heart.

Set in the 1950s, "Memphis" tells the story of a young, uneducated Caucasian man from low means whose love for the alluring vigor and harmonies of the African-American influence on rock 'n' roll helps him to climb to fame as a disc jockey on his own radio show in his hometown of Memphis. and helps him encourage the career of a young African-American singer, who he becomes unabashedly in love with.

Bryan Fenkart as Huey, the young man whose penchant for the African-Americans' contribution to rock 'n' roll gains him local stardom and kindles a then-scandalous romance, brought a great deal of quirky, geeky humor to his role, creating a man who was very amusing and, at times, unstable.

Felicia Boswell as Felicia, a young African-American woman whose mesmerizing singing talent takes her far beyond her brother's club and involves her in more than just a professional relationship with Huey, infused her character with a mixture of feisty determination, endearing tenderness and heart-breaking anguish, while her immensely soulful singing-voice lent an added layer of strength to her highly impacting acting performance.

As Delray, Felicia's defensive older brother and owner of the club where Felicia has been showcasing her talent, Quentin Earl Darrington conveyed a potent air of pent-up anger and spiteful agitation, while his deep, rich singing-voice endowed his performance with an even more commanding edge.

Julie Johnson as Mama supplied the production with a portrayal that mixed humor with disturbing hypocrisy. Johnson's bossy and feisty attitude, especially toward her son, Huey, gave the musical an enjoyable amount of humor, while her character's forthright racial prejudice and self-righteous attitude formed a level of dichotomizing deplorability. "Memphis," a musical both arousing and pleasurable in caliber, was a brilliant finish to an old year and an invigorating beginning to a new one. Its effectual message and diverse score, brought to life by a tremendously talented cast, created a momentous theater experience that proved to be fully capable of making one's heart break or sing at a moment's notice.

(Sarah Reed is theater critic for Weekender.)

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