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Arts & Entertainment

?Memphis? music provides inspiration

| Friday, Dec. 30, 2011

'Memphis' takes a very serious subject — the unpleasant reality of segregation in the South in the 1950s, including major consequences for those who tried to cross the racial barriers — and, through inspiring music, dance and great casting, infuses the audience with the spirit to bridge the differences so that all move on and benefit.

Key to the musical, playing through Sunday at Heinz Hall as part of Broadway Across America — Pittsburgh series, is the main character, Huey Calhoun, a poor young white man who is short on book learning and any sense of fashion but sure knows what`s great when it comes to music, even if it is Negro music heard only in the underground bars and clubs of Memphis at the time.

Bryan Fenkart as Calhoun, loosely based on real life Memphis disc jockey Dewey Phillips, throws his heart and soul into bringing what he knows is good music ('The Music of My Soul') to the mainstream music scene, doing the unthinkable at the time by falling in love with a black songstress (Felicia Boswell as Felicia) along the way.

The onstage chemistry certainly is there for Fenkart and Boswell, something absolutely essential for 'Memphis' to work properly. Her voice is strong, clear and sweet, and her character falls for him as much as he falls for her.

But there are laws on the books in Memphis prohibiting such a black-white relationship, leading each to consider, at some point in the show, leaving their home and going somewhere where they can be together openly.

There`s no profanity or sex, but one use of the 'N' word in context for the time period.

A brief review of the cast bios indicates why the national tour of 'Memphis' is so strong, with many acting, recording and dancing credits even for ensemble members.

Special accolades go to Quentin Earl Darrington as Felicia`s protective brother Delray, who like Huey wants to make the young black woman a star; Will Mann as Bobby; Rhett George as Gator; William Parry as Mr. Simms; and Julie Johnson as Gladys, Huey`s mother, who experiences her own transformation in 'Change Don`t Come Easy.'

The music, singing and dancing keep the show upbeat through some serious subject matter.

The opening-night audience included those who had seen 'Memphis' previously and were eager to experience the tour, plus those experiencing the show for the first time. They responded with standing ovations for the entire cast and Memphis band musicians.

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