By PAM HARBAUGH
Music and message come across in vivid fashion in the Henegar’s terrific production of “Memphis,” a crowd pleasing musical with thrilling talent, exciting choreography, gorgeous sets and lights, and a musical score that grabs you and won’t let go.
Written by the gifted Joe DiPietro (“Over the River and Through the Woods,” “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”) with music and lyrics by David Bryan, the story revolves around 1950s Memphis radio DJ Huey Calhoun, a character based loosely on the life of real DJ Dewey Phillips.
Drawn to the “music of his soul” — at the time called “race music” — Huey (a fabulous Joey Paris) befriends the owner of a black nightclub and ends up falling in love with his sister, a gifted singer named Felicia (a sensational Shara Kyles). The interracial coupling causes grief not only for Felicia’s brother (the marvelous LeRoy Darby) but also for Huey’s mother, Mama (strong and stirring Shane Frampton). Its message concerns the inevitability of social change and acceptance of those unlike one’s reflection in a mirror.
Take these compelling story elements, add electrifying music propelling mile-a-minute choreography (excellent work by Amanda Cheyenne Manis) and you get a sure fire hit. Which is what the Henegar has.
Directed by Hank Rion, the entire cast whops you upside the head with talent galore. The singing, dancing and enthusiasm is simply infectious. Bobby Postell, who plays ‘Gator,’ nearly steals the first act when he lets out with “Say a Prayer.” As ‘Bobby,’ Edwin Watson lets out with a snappy R & B number called “Big Love.”
Staci Cleveland leads 10-piece pit orchestra that keeps the party going and barely takes a breath. And music director Kevin McNaughton pulls voices together into a tight sound perfectly keeping in style with the show. Costume designer Andrew Cline goes the distance in his broad array of right on mid-20th century garb. His touch on the final scene, is..well..a singular sensation.
Austin Butler’s scene design is on the mark here. In fact, presented in concert with Joshua Huss’ gorgeous lighting design, the look of the show is absolutely Broadway quality.
This production has such shine to it. You really need to put it on your immediate “to-do” list. To see a short video of opening night excitement, click here.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “Memphis” runs through Oct. 18 at the Henegar Center, 625 E. New Haven Ave., Melbourne. It performs 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $16 to $26. Call 321-723-8698 or visit Henegar.org.
P.S. I am not calling this an actual “review,” since I am directing a show for the Henegar…conflict of interest and all that, you know.