Memphis: The Musical
Book and Lyric by David Bryan
Music and Lyrics by Joe DiPietro
Directed by Derek Critzer
Musical Direction by David Foust
Starring Dustin Fisher, LaDawn Taylor, and Terrence Jamison
The State Theater, Eustis FL
Of course, white kids loved black music in the 1950’s; they just didn’t know it. Color lines went deep, and among other effects this caused the roots of rock and roll to form largely apart from the white controlled record industry. But a few knew about the sound and worked to bring it forward like our hero Huey Calhoun (Fisher). He talks sideways and wears a spiffy little hat but has little else going on in life. Down in a basement club on Beale street he meets singer Felicia Farrell, a woman with a promising voice and a protective brother Delray (Jamison). Her brother Delray (Jamison) is skeptical and suspicious, and with good reason: No one cares when a black man gets a beating. Huey’s mom Gladys (Sara Jones) is equally suspicious; blacks and whites circle each other like over matched boxers. But Huey thinks Felica’s song can be a hit, and he weasels himself onto a radio station and starts tearing up the ratings. Soon he’s a hit, love and racism are in the air, and in another decade Felica is a big star.
It’s a complex and ambitious show with tons of great singing, dancing and canoodling. Fischer’s Huey is goofy-sweet; you want him to succeed but it’s never clear how he would pull that off. Taylor’s Felicia is the one to cheer for with her sweet voice and the tension between loving Huey and fearing for her life. Supporting them we find a panoply of characters from the confused Radio station owner Mr. Simmons (Shelly Whittle) to the semi-mute bartender Gator (Gregory Baker) to the amazing vocal of janitor Bobby (Ricky D. Melvern). It’s hard to pick a favorite song here, but I was humming “Steal Your Rock ‘n’ Roll” on the way back to my car. Dance numbers flowed smoothly (Savannah Pederson did the choreography) and the set changes stayed fluid while never distracting from Huey and Felicia’s wobbly romance. It is a drive out to Eustis, but this show is worth it. There’s even a handful of interesting eateries in the same block as the theater, and its good to get out of town every now and again.
For more information on shows at The State Theater in Eustis, please visit https://www.baystreetplayers.org/