Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Regional Reviews by Zander Opper
Being very familiar with this musical, both from seeing the original Broadway production and watching the excellent and highly recommended commercially released DVD of the original Broadway show, I was expecting to be entertained by Memphis at the Ivoryton Playhouse. What I didn't count on was just how galvanizing and powerful this production truly is. Masterfully and fluidly directed and choreographed by Todd L. Underwood and featuring a flawless cast led by the terrific Carson Higgins and Renee Jackson, this Memphis is a knockout and should be seen by anyone who loves musical theatre.
What's so amazing and surprising about Memphis at the Ivoryton Playhouse is that it brings out all the best qualities of this musical and then some. This show has always seemed to be a cross between two other wonderful musicals, Dreamgirls and Hairspray. But not until seeing the show at the Ivoryton Playhouse did I realize that Memphis can stake its own claim as a terrific show and can stand proudly outside the shadow of any other musical that has come before it.
The show's two lead roles have been expertly cast and almost eclipse the memory of the two original Broadway leads. As the disc jockey Huey, Carson Higgins is suitably charming and goofy and manages to be both charismatic and nerdy at the same time. This actor also possesses an excellent singing voice, especially in the rousing second act song, "Memphis Lives in Me." Playing Felicia, the woman Huey loves and catapults to stardom, Renee Jackson is dynamite and possessor of her own golden singing voice, which she uses to charm in the show's pop song, "Someday," and also to stop the show, in the devastating number, "Colored Woman."
It should be mentioned that the romance between Huey and Felicia is a mixed race one, and the tension between the races in the show's setting of 1950s Memphis is always predominant. But it must be said that some of the very best moments in Memphis are when the entire company joins as one to bring down the house singing the show's amazing score. Somehow, that score by David Bryan and Joe DiPietro has never sounded so good as it does on the Ivoryton Playhouse stage, with expert musical director Michael Morris leading a wonderful off-stage band and every role in the show being perfectly filled. Besides the two marvelous leads, there is also fine work by Jamal Shuriah, Teren Carter, David Robbins, and the unexpectedly spicy Melodie Wolford, as Huey's mother.
With this glorious production of Memphis, Ivoryton Playhouse has done the near-impossible: it almost outshines the high profile original Broadway show. How it exactly accomplishes this feat is a thing of wonder, with chief credit going to director/choreographer Todd L. Underwood, who works brilliantly with scenic designer Martin Scott Marchitto, lighting designer Doug Harry, and costume/wig designer Elizabeth Cipollina.
And then there is that cast, who truly perform magic onstage. Just to hear the entire company belting out the finale number, "Steal Your Rock N Roll," would be worth the price of admission. But, from beginning to end, Ivoryton Playhouse's production of Memphis is quite simply an out-and-out triumph.
Memphis continues performances at the Ivoryton Playhouse in Ivoryton, CT through August 30, 2015. For tickets, please visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org or call the box office at (860) 767-7318.
Photo by Roger Williams