Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Las Vegas

Memphis
Super Summer Theatre
Review by Mary LaFrance

Also see Mary's review of Idaho! The Comedy Musical


Keith Dotson, Kasi Jones, Ayler Evan, Lance Bernard Bryant, Carnell Johnson, and Cast
Photo by John MacDermot
What better way to spend a warm summer evening than watching a terrific musical under the stars? In its second full-fledged offering of the season, the Super Summer Theatre at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park has mounted a tuneful and engaging production of the musical Memphis. When you consider that summer temperatures at the Ranch are 10 degrees cooler than elsewhere in the Valley, and that you can bring your own picnic and sprawl on the grass, an evening at Memphis is well worth the price of admission.

At this time of renewed racial conflict, Memphis is a remarkably relevant show. Set in the 1950s, the story follows Huey Calhoun, a young white deejay on a passionate quest to bring black rock and roll music to the attention of white America. Even as he achieves his goal, his blurring of racial lines rattles more than a few cages. When he becomes romantically involved with Felicia Farrell, a young black singer whose recording career he hopes to launch, Huey's conservative mother Gladys and Felicia's protective brother Delray both react with alarm. Although his love is true, Huey's zeal in combatting racism in the music industry, combined with his naivete and blindness to his own white privilege, threatens not only Felicia's future but her life.

The winner of four Tony Awards on Broadway, Memphis combines a good story (tightly written by Joe Pietro) with an important piece of social history. In true rock 'n' roll spirit, David Bryan's music brims with energy. If their jointly authored lyrics are less than memorable, they are at least serviceable; seriously, what do you expect from rock 'n' roll?

Director Philip Shelburne and his talented cast bring Memphis to glittering life on the outdoor stage. All of the leads are strong actor-singers with excellent stage presence. As Huey, Ayler Evan convincingly makes the transformation from feckless youngster to groundbreaking entrepreneur to wounded soul. Kasi Jones is a fine Felicia, and Lance Bernard Bryant as Delray and Carnell Johnson as Bobby contribute outstanding vocals. Steve McMillan as Mr. Simmons, Keith Dotson as Gator, and Anita Bean as Gladys do fine work in supporting roles.

It is the singing-dancing ensemble, however, that provides some of the evening's best moments. In addition to their strong vocals, the dancers bring athleticism and boundless energy to Jonas Shumpert's lively and demanding choreography.

Andy Walmsley's set design is gorgeous as well as functional. Eye-popping radio dials frame the stage. A stylish set of catwalks and stairways enables the action to proceed on two levels. The black rock 'n' roll club where Huey meets Felicia springs to life under this grid, with blacked-out windows high above, reminding us that the club is—both literally and figuratively—underground.

Bryant's Tony-winning score is brought to life by an eight-person onstage band conducted by music director Dan Bernbach. Tucked under the catwalks, the musicians also double as the house band for Delray's underground club.

Jerome Bourdin's stylish costumes and Ellen Bone's crisp lighting design enhance the visual appeal of the production, and Kat Gonzalez's sound design handily conquers the challenges of a large outdoor amphitheatre.

Memphis: The Musical continues through July 23, 2016 (Wednesday-Saturday at 8 pm) at the Super Summer Theatre at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, 6375 NV Rte. 159, Las Vegas, NV 89004 (on Blue Diamond Road, in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, just north of Bonnie Springs Ranch). For tickets ($12.95 general admission; $20 at the gate if available; bring chair or blanket or rent a chair onsite) or further information, go to www.supersummertheatre.org. The show is performed without an intermission. Parking is free.

Cast

Huey Calhoun: Ayler Evan
Felicia: Kasi Jones
Delray: Lance Bernard Bryant
Gator: Keith Dotson
Mr. Simmons: Steve McMillan
Bobby: Carnell Johnson
Gladys: Anita Bean
Ensemble: Quinn Osborne, Kris Anthony Williams, Jhaelle B, Adam McDonald, Austin Champion, Destiny Faith, D'Jeanette Graham, Erica Bowers, Heaven Akmal, Darla House, Nakaze Harris, Baylie Sullivan, Kaleigh Jones, Olivia Hernando, NarŽe Asherian, Kristina Lee Newman


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