Sunday, March 2, 2014

Broward Center for the Performing Arts: Memphis (reviews)

BAA_Memphis_2The National Tour of Memphis opened at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts on February 25, 2014.
Turn up that dial... From the underground dance clubs of 1950s Memphis, Tennessee, comes a hot new Broadway musical that bursts off the stage with explosive dancing, irresistible songs and a thrilling tale of fame and forbidden love. Inspired by actual events, Memphis tells the story of a radio DJ who wants to change the world and a club singer who is ready for her big break. Filled with laughter, soaring emotion and roof-raising rock 'n' roll, Memphis is the winner of four 2010 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical by Joe DiPietro (I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change) and a Best Score by Bon Jovi's founding member David Bryan.
Adam Arian recreated Christopher Ashley’s orginal direction, and Jermaine Rembert recreated Sergio Trujillo’s choreography.  The cast included Joey Elrose, Jasmin Richardson, RaMond Thomas, D. Scott Withers, Jerrial T. Young, Avionce Hoyles, and Pat Sibley.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Memphis features a Tony-winning score by Bon Jovi keyboard player David Bryan, who collaborated with DiPietro on the lyrics. Stylistically, the music ranges from blues to gospel to rock ‘n’ roll, evoking the sound and spirit of classic songs without achieving the timeless qualities of the inspiring originals.
Memphis doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of the era. It portrays violence, everything from a white father slapping his daughter to thugs attacking Huey and Felicia. The audience gasps after the n-word gets uttered by a white character, and Huey’s mama nearly shatters Felicia’s career before it begins. Ugly.
…for all those sociological trappings, Memphis is mostly focused on entertaining its audiences through powerhouse songs and flashy group dance numbers (Sergio Trujillo’s original choreography is re-created by Jermaine R. Rembert). Richardson, who has the pipes to make Felicia a convincing up-and-coming talent, earns the cheers she gets after her solo on Colored Woman. Avionce Hoyles’ previously silent Gator brings down the house with the moving Say a Prayer. Jerrial T. Young’s big-guy Bobby tears up the stage (and manages a cartwheel and back flip) while singing Big Love.
The white characters, the Calhoun family in particular, don’t fare as well. It’s more DiPietro’s fault than Elrose’s that crazy Huey’s charisma and success remain (as they did on Broadway) hard to fathom. He’s stubborn, reckless, driven and, as it happens, illiterate. Not a lot to root for there. Sibley has it rough, too. Her Mama Calhoun comes off as opportunistic as well as racist, and her singing voice is no more than passable.
Rod Stafford Hagwood wasted several inches of type for The Stunned-Senseless:
“Memphis” is the kind of Broadway musical you’ll like.  You’ll want to love it, but you’ll probably just like it.
The book really moves, covering much ground in two hours and 15 minutes with a 15-minute intermission — fame, cultural revolution, segregation, racial violence, crossover hits, Christianity, the advent of TV — and manages to inject a fair amount of humor along the way. The biggest laughs come from Huey’s Mama (Pat Sibley) and his pals Gator (Avionce Hoyles) and Bobby (Jerrial T. Young), all of whom really, really know how to sell a punch line and drain every giggle out of a gag.
But for all the songs in the show where the word “soul” is evoked over and over, the sugary-sweet numbers never break the skin or rattle the rafters. It’s as if the audience never gets to hear what Huey hears, that driving sound that makes him recklessly share black music with the white side of town. And the gregarious choreography, which seems disconnected as if from another musical, doesn’t help (nor did the tinny sound, which is hardly the road tour's fault).
(Ed. Note – national tours travel with their own sound systems. A real theatre reviewer would know this.)
The two leads provide the best reason to see “Memphis.” Elrose may strain ever so slightly with the vocals, but his comedic timing is flawless, and he somehow manages to be cool, casual and crazy. Richardson’s voice cuts through like a young Leslie Uggams or Melba Moore: smoky sultry one moment, and shiny fiery the next.
Michelle F. Solomon wrote for Miami ArtZine:
Memphis is exuberant, and despite its simplification of the birth of rock ’n’ roll, it is two-plus hours of not only soul-stirring music, but soul-wrenching emotions. Characters are fully fleshed out for a "pop" musical (something that many of the latest of the same genre don’t give attention to, a.k.a. Rock of Ages, We Will Rock You).
DiPietro keeps the book light and, at times, its predictable. Yet, when Huey’s God-fearing Christian mother (Pat Sibley, who steals the show with her Gospel-inspired Change Don’t Come Easy) has a change of heart in Act II, and the mute bartender, Gator, (the supremely talented Avionce Hoyles) at the Beal Street Club, who hasn’t spoken in years after seeing his father’s lynching, reveals his incredible vocal talents, all of the B-movie dialogue doesn’t matter.
Jasmin Richardson as Felicia has a voice that sends chills and she shines on the Dream Girls-eseque Colored Woman. She’s wonderfully paired with the earnest Elrose, and they bring a believability to the characters’ struggles.
The National Tour of Memphis plays at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts through March 8, 2014.

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