Reviewed by: Ed Goodman
February 25 - March 9th
Being in and around radio most of all of my adult life, it’s always a treat for me to see a show like “Memphis”, now on stage at the Broward Center. I revisit the whys and wherefores of me becoming a DJ. It was simple - I wanted to be involved in the magic. I was lucky and got to follow my dream. Seeing a show like “Memphis” still reminds me of how fortunate I’ve been.
Before all the modern electronic conveniences we have today, radio was it -people spent hours listening to music at home and in their cars. Radio was a link to an unknown world. And it’s never been more pronounced than it is in “Memphis” – showing what radio does best – opening a small world to a bigger world of new ideas, and new music – rock n’ roll to be exact.
“Memphis”is very loosely based on the life and times of DJ Dewey Philips, who brought that music out of the underground clubs in Memphis to mainstream radio, back in the day before we ever heard about Motown or the Philadelphia sound. It was a daring and dangerous thing for a radio disc jockey to do, both for his career and personal safety.
With the show’s musical roots firmly entrenched in the blues/gospel sound of the city, the tempo soars from the get-go. The ensemble tears it up in with “Underground” to open the show, “Everybody Wants To Be Black on Saturday Night” and finishes with a rip-roaring finale of “Steal Your Rock n’ Roll”. Sandwiched in between are some solo and group standouts: Huey’s (Joey Elrose) “Memphis Lives In Me”, Felicia’s (Jasmin Richardson) “Colored Woman”, Gator’s (Avionce Hoyles) “Say A Prayer”, Bobby’s (Jerrial T Young) “Big Love” and Mama (Pat Sibley), Delray (RaMond Thomas), Bobby and Gator’s “Change Don’t Come Easy”. Kudos to all.
Elrose, as Huey, brings it from the start. High energy and enough swagger to fill a ballroom. His bravado is just that though, as he’d rather hang in Memphis trying to be that “big fish in a little pond” than take that big leap and chance “…against that Richard Clark guy…”. Richardson’s Felicia is the perfect counterpart to him and yet she has the drive to go for it – and she makes it. For a couple so much in love, I would have liked a little more fire between them – it would have helped me connect to both of them and their struggles.
Thomas and Sibley as Felicia’s brother and Huey’s mother bring all the bad and good that those times brought out in everyone. Stereotypes yes – but not far off the mark in the real world of the mid-south in the 50’s. Joe DiPetro’s book is a good one, with a timeless theme, even if a bit cumbersome and preachy in Act II. But it’s David Bryan’s (Bon Jovi) music that carries the show and the message, bringing out that unique Memphis sound that travelled up the river to St Louis, Chicago and points east and west, taking on a life of its own along the way.
It’s hard to pigeon-hole a show like “Memphis” because it isn’t just about radio, music and DJ’s. It covers a lot of ground: racism, opportunity, career, life goals and lost love. “Memphis” brings the message that we all are alike, wanting equity, equality, recognition and acceptance.
Marshall McCluhen once famously said “the medium is the message”. Here, the music is, with all its power to heal and hurt. “Memphis” gives us a very satisfying way to enjoy that music and message at the same time.
Tickets available at the box office or www.browardcenter.org