May 26, 2010

Soul Music

From the moment I heard Chad Kimball sing "Memphis Lives in Me" on last year's Broadway on Broadway, I wanted to see Memphis the Musical. Two weeks ago, I finally had the chance to do so. Not even 5 minutes into the first act, I knew I wanted the CD. The show was an exhilarating experience. It reminded me of Hairspray but delves deeper into race relations. I think it should win this year's Tony. Its secret? Rock and Roll baby! Spirited choreography, star-crossed lovers, energetic score with gospel, rhythm and blues and sentimental ballads. The story is predictable yet still timely. But the ending is definitely not a cop-out. Any other ending would have negated its message of staying true to one's self.
Montego Glover's got some pipes! She is outstanding as Felicia, the talented singer who performs at her brother Delray's (the impressive J. Bernard Calloway) segregated nightclub. She makes the mistake of falling in love with ne'er-do-well Huey Calhoun (Mr. Kimball), who happens upon the club one night and promises to make her a star. Their love story however seemed underdeveloped and a little rushed. But the book still got a Tony nod.
Chad Kimball plays the rebellious Huey, who according to show creators David Bryan (of Bon Jovi!) and Joe DiPietro, is a composite of radio station disc jockeys who dared to play black music in the 1950s and revolutionized music forever. Mr. Kimball is guileless yet confident as he smooth talks his way to becoming the controversial number 1 DJ in Memphis. He refuses to compromise even in the face of difficult, life-altering choices. He knows that home is where his heart is. Chad is an emotional powerhouse who has a solid singing voice. I wonder if his seemingly exaggerated drawl, carriage and gait were all meant to highlight how unconventional he was.
Scene-stealing James Monroe Iglehart is Bobby, aspiring singer by night and janitor by day at the radio station owned by Mr. Simmons (Spamalot's Michael McGrath). Derrick Baskin (from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) is the silent, traumatized bartender Gator. Cass Morgan plays Huey's disapproving mother.
The audience was still hootin' & hollerin' long after the orchestra played its last notes. Don't miss this joyful, soulful, crowd-pleasing spectacle. Ignore the naysayers who think it's too predictable or cartoonish. I laughed, cried, tapped my toes, clapped and cheered. Your soul will thank you for it. This is my pick for this year's Best Musical. Hockadoo!


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