There are simply not enough accolades to bestow upon “Memphis.”
The 2010 Tony Award-winning Best Musical is running at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace through December 4.
But a single word of advice to musical-theater lovers suffices: Go.
It’s obvious in the show’s first 3 minutes that the audience is in for a special treat. Clear storytelling, a brilliant score, exceptional stage talent and fabulous technical work combine to put this production in the top 2 or 3 theater experiences in most patrons’ lifetimes. The awesome spectacle of “Miss Saigon,” the passion of “Les Miserables,” the authenticity of “Memphis.”
Indeed, this “Memphis” is a remarkable musical, energetically taking its audience through an interracial love story during the racially charged 1950s in its title city. The history of black blues fusing to white rock and roll is told through Black nightclub singer Felicia (Felicia Boswell) and illiterate, white music-lover-turned-deejay Huey (Brian Fenkhart). A full synopsis is found here.
After understudying their roles during the show’s Tony run, Boswell and Fenkhart are fully capable and comfortable in the main spotlight. Good thing, too, because they won’t be giving it up any time soon. Their chemistry is electric; their characterization spot-on; their vocals divine.
In truth, outstanding performances abound in this show. The 28-member cast exhibits precision in their dance and a gorgeous blend in their vocals. This is an amazing display of individual and collective talent.
Deserving special mention are Quentin Earl Darrington as Felicia’s protective brother, Delray; Julie Johnson as Huey’s mama, Gladys; and Will Mann as the janitor-turned-singer, Bobby. Johnson and Mann bring down the house with their solos, “Change Don’t Come Easy” and “Big Love,” respectively.
Much of the “Memphis” score is radio-worthy, allowing one observer to question why more pop vocal stars are not plucked from professional musical stages along with songs from their shows. Boswell’s “Someday” and “Love Will Stand When All Else Fails,” Fenkhart’s “Memphis Lives in Me” and the leading pair’s duet, “The Music of My Soul,” all deserve a spot in the middle of the radio dial.
The only true criticism of this “Memphis” is its pathetically short run here. Chicagoland audiences who supported resident runs of “Wicked” (3+ years) and “Jersey Boys” (2+ years) would no doubt get behind a long-term engagement of this fabulous production. Many would line up to see this show multiple times. For that, Broadway in Chicago needs to find a long-term home for this production once its tour ends next summer.
For those choosing to spend their entertainment budgets on this show, congratulations. You will not be disappointed.