“Memphis” Brings “Music of the Soul” to Broward Center
By Skip Sheffield
Imagine if you will a world without rock ‘n’ roll music. That was mainstream America in the early 1950s.
“Memphis The Musical,” the rafter-raising Best Musical Tony Award-winner 2010 musical at Broward Center through March 9, imagines the events that changed that situation and brought black rhythm and blues and blues music to a larger white audience.
Joe DiPietro (book and lyrics) and David Bryan (music and lyrics) have crafted a musical fable about a white Memphis disc jockey who introduced black rhythm and blues to what had been a segregated radio market.
The prototypical wild and crazy disc jockey Huey Calhoun is loosely based on the real-life radio and television personality Dewey Phillips.
The fable has elements of history, romance, changing attitudes on racial segregation and a whole lot of gospel-fused and blues-based music.
Huey Calhoun (Joey Elrose) is a high school dropout living with his mother (Pat Sibley) and working a menial job as stockboy at a Memphis department store.
Clumsy Huey quickly loses that job, but talks his angry boss into letting him spin some records in the store to promote greater sales. Huey spins a record from his own collection of rhythm and blues (“Scratch My Itch”) and celebrates the genre in the song “The Music of My Soul.” Despite selling a record 29 records at his first attempt, Huey gets fired anyway because his boss doesn’t like “race music.”
Huey loves “race music” so much he ventures into an all-black nightclub on Beale Street (“Underground”). The owner, Delray (RaMond Thomas) doesn’t cotton to white boys coming around, especially when they show a special interest in his little sister Felicia (Jasmin Richardson), who sings at the club.
A word about Jasmine Richardson: Fabulous. She is tall, gorgeous and svelte, and she has a voice as powerful as a locomotive.
It is no wonder that Huey thinks he can make Felicia a star, and no wonder he becomes smitten with her. This is a time when inter-racial romance is taboo and thereby lies the conflict of this romance.
Other cast standouts are hefty but agile janitor-turned-announcer Bobby (Jerrial T. Young), who is a significant gospel belter himself; and Avionce Hoyles as bartender Gator, who is mute through most of Act One then reveals an angelic tenor voice.
There is a crack band onstage to liven things up even more. If you aren’t moved by this music of the soul, you better check your pulse.
Tickets are $34.50 and up. Call 954-462-0222 or go to www.browardcenter.org.