Forbidden love told through music in 'Memphis'

Memphis deejay brings rhythm and blues to mainstream radio as he falls for black club singer. Show opens at Segerstrom Center for the Arts next week.

October 31, 2012|By Heather Youmans
(Photo by Paul Kolnik )

Four-time Tony Award-winning original musical "Memphis" rides the airwaves into Costa Mesa for a two-week engagement at Segerstrom Center for the Arts next week.

"Memphis," two hours of fast-paced action and 19 high-energy song and dance numbers, is set in the segregated 1950s with blues and early rock 'n' roll the vehicle for a tale of fame and forbidden interracial love.

The first national touring company features original Broadway cast members, including Bryan Fenkart as Huey Calhoun, a role he understudied and performed more than 200 times, ensemble member Jill Morrison said.

"The tour is really successful," Morrison, a Mission Viejo native, said in a phone interview. "I don't think we've had a single performance that hasn't had an immediate standing ovation at the end. So, everyone is loving it. It's kind of like a big rock concert at the end of the show. Everyone is standing up and clapping, the entire theater."


According to Morrison, the tour, which opened October 2011, was recently extended a year, due to popular demand. Producers will soon launch a West End run in London that will feature British performers.

"Memphis" takes place on Beale Street in the smoky underground dance clubs of Memphis, Tenn.

Inspired by actual events, the story centers on Calhoun, the first white deejay to play rhythm and blues music in the center of the radio dial for mainstream white America. According to Morrison, Calhoun's character was loosely based off 50s Memphis deejay Dewey Phillips.

Calhoun falls in love with rock 'n' roll and a black club singer, Felicia Farrell (Felicia Boswell), who is ready for her big break. When Calhoun plays her on the radio, the town is left in an uproar.

"Some people compare it to 'Hairspray,' but [the creators] are trying to keep away from a direct comparison to 'Hairspray,' because it is very different and the story goes deeper," Morrison said. "Hairspray is a little more on the surface and this goes deep into racism and things that were going on in the 50s."

Joe DiPietro's vision for the book and lyrics is based on a concept by the late George W. George, producer of the Tony nominated "Bedroom Farce" and the film "My Dinner With Andre."

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