Friday, December 2, 2011

theatre review MEMPHIS, November 29

The musical Memphis just celebrated its second anniversary on Broadway.  We saw the show a little over two years ago, right before it opened, and thought it a pretty good show with an intelligent book and characters, a good score and an impressive set design.  It also featured two actors, Chad Kimball and Montego Glover, in the lead roles, who created memorable characters and who both got Tony nominations for their efforts.   So, when they announced Adam Pascal would be assuming the lead male role we thought we'd check the show out again to see how it had held up and how Pascal was as the lead male.

The good news is that the show and cast are just as impressive as before.  And how was Pascal?  I have no idea, as he was out the night we went.  I think I jinxed it based on my review of Rent last week where I commented that pretty much every time we went to see that show on Broadway there was always several understudies on, even though the few times we saw the show when Pascal was in the cast he was always there.  We also saw Aida on Broadway a couple of times, and again, he was always in the show when we went.  So, I was a little disappointed that Adam was out.  However understudy Kevin Massey was excellent in the lead male part of Huey, and he is so different physically from Pascal (as is Kimball) and the part is such an under dog role, and not your typical romantic leading man role, which is pretty much the types of parts that Pascal has played, that I now can't imagine Pascal in the role.  We may have to go back again just to see if Pascal is able to pull the part off.

Kevin Massey
Memphis in set in the early 1950's and focuses on a young white DJ who makes it his mission to get "race" music played on the radio and on tv while also falling in love with the young black singer Felicia and battling racial prejudice and bigotry.   Montego Glover is still starring as Felicia and she is still doing an amazing job in the role.  She and Massey had plenty of passion together as well, so I have to believe this wasn't Massey's first time going on in the part as he has been the understudy for awhile now, even before Pascal joined the show a few weeks ago.  While Massey played the part much like Kimball did, he didn't affect the somewhat strange southern accent that Kimball used, pretty much sticking with a standard accent which I think worked a little better.  He also had an amazing amount of energy, had a great singing voice and danced perfectly in character.   His Huey had just as much warmth as Kimball's did, not only with the people closest to him, like Felicia and his Mama, but also with just about every other actor on the stage.

Montego Glover and the ensemble
Also still in the show from the original cast are Derrick Baskin and James Monroe Iglehart as two of Felicia's friends and they are both still doing wonderful work especially Iglehart who sings and dances extremely well.  We had understudies for Felicia's brother and Huey's mama.  Antonie L. Smith and Elizabeth Ward Land had no problem in assuming those parts.  Land was especially memorable as Huey's very prejudice, feisty mother.  The ensemble for this show is especially hard working with plenty of dancing and most of them playing multiple characters throughout.

Memphis is a fun show with an impressive score by Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan and book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro.  Direction by Christopher Ashley keeps the show moving along at a brisk pace but also focusing appropriately on the issues at hand.  Sergio Trujillo's choreography couldn't be better.

The show's ending, when I first saw it, seemed a bit rushed and a little bit of a let down.  However after having seen the show a second time I believe that the ending is pretty much the only way the show could have ended with still being real to the characters and time period.  So, I'm glad we went back to see the show a second time and happy to report that the show is still in fine shape and if you happen to see Massey on for Huey the night you go you have absolutely noting to worry about.

The Original Broadway Cast of the show was filmed for a limited theatrical release and that filmed version of the show is currently on sale at the theatre as well as the various theatres where the National Tour is now playing.  It is also currently available on Netflix Instant Streaming and is set to be released commercially in January on both dvd and blu-ray.  So, if you can't make it to Broadway to see Memphis or aren't in one of the cities where the Tour is coming, then you have many other ways to check out this engaging show with a talented cast, memorable characters and book, an impressive set and direction and a rocking score.

Official Show Site

Show highlights with the Original Broadway Cast:

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