Hockadoo! Memphis, 2010’s Tony winner for Best Musical, rolls into Detroit this week and the fast-paced show is a jamming good time. Set in the 1950’s, the compelling show tells the story of wacky Memphis-based disc jockey, Huey Calhoun, as he first breaks black rhythm and blues music to white kids. To Calhoun’s dismay, the acceptance of black music on white radio isn't well received by the bigoted white station owner, yet it’s exceedingly popular with the kids and gets the station to the top of the charts. Huey falls in love with one of the black singers, Felicia, who’s music he puts on the radio in hopes of making her a star, yet their relationship must remain private due to fear of a public uproar.
Controversial topics persist throughout the show with much tension regarding racial relations in play. The show has outstanding original music written by David Bryan, of Bon Jovi fame, and a book by Joe DiPietro. The shows leads, Bryan Fenkart and Felicia Boswell, are equally excellent in the roles of Huey and Felicia, respectively. Memphis includes plenty of laughs, dramatic moments, romance, social commentary, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll to satisfy every show-goer The singing and dancing is everything that you would expect from a top notch Tony Award winning Broadway show. It contains fast-paced choreography, dazzling costumes, and very well constructed music. The forbidden chemistry between Huey and Felicia was part of what made the show so real and memorable.
Huey has a very colorful and charismatic personality; pretty much every word that Huey utters solicits a chuckle from the audience. Huey’s mother, played by Julie Johnson, gave perhaps the most riveting vocal performance in the entire show during the song “Change Don’t Come Easy”. Her vocal scale and runs throughout the song left the audience in awe. The staging and lighting was fast paced and interesting to watch. It seemed as if the elaborate staging was frantically rearranging itself during every scene, going from department store, to the club, home, to the streets and recording studio.
It’s certainly nice to see a show with original music and not based on a movie or television show. The viewer has a bit less familiarity going in, but it’s refreshing to see creativity and it leaves a longer lasting impression. Memphis received 8 Tony nominations in 2010 and took home 4 awards including Best Musical. After seeing Memphis it's not hard to understand how it earned its many accolades and praise. Go see it before it leaves Detroit!
Memphis plays at Detroit’s Fisher Theatre through Sunday, April 21, 2013!