The plot focuses on Huey Calhoun (Joey Elrose), a young white disc jockey in the 1950s who falls in love with the Memphis soul, gospel, rhythm and blues music to which he's a racial outsider. He manages to be one of the very first to bring "black music to white folk" and rustles more than a few feathers in the process. Some of these feathers happen to belong to a certain black singer he falls in love with. Felicia (Jasmin Richardson) is an extremely talented diva who can't break out of her gig singing at her brother's smoky club because of the limits of her race. Huey comes along to change all that and change the landscape of the music industry itself in regards to black and white tensions. He succeeds on many fronts, but, as one of the songs of the evening goes, "Change Don't Come Easy."
Elrose as the male lead is bursting with energy and readily embodies the speed-crazed hillbilly radio and TV personality that Huey Calhoun is supposed to be (loosely based on real-life Memphis disc jockey and pioneer of rock 'n' roll Dewey Phillips). Elrose manages to find balance between this larger-than-life side of Huey and the quieter and more vulnerable guy he is deep down (although these quiet moments are pretty few and far between in the entirety of the story). I really enjoyed his performance, but I did feel his vocals sounded a little out of place in conjunction with the rest of the cast. He's an outstanding singer, but at times I was drawn out of the story because of how he sounded like a principal straight out of Rent and the contemporary New York City it's set in, rather than a true Memphis-based mid-20th century personality. Richardson as Felicia is top-notch. Her voice never falters or falls flat and she makes it all seem so effortless. She's stunningly beautiful in her well-designed costumes (Paul Tazewell) and exudes the epitome of restrained class and poise in one moment and in the next is belting out a hand-clapping knee-slapping gospel tune with sheer abandon.
Other noteworthy performances include Avionce Hoyles as Gator, a young man who works at Delray's nightclub on Beale Street and doesn't actually speak at all until he busts out with the memorable song "Say a Prayer" at the conclusion of act one in a huge voice that sounds like it doesn't belong to his small stature. Jerrial T. Young as Bobby, a maintenance worker at Huey's radio station, provides comic relief and some really impressive dance moves. And Pat Sibley not only brings comedy, but provides a very believable journey as Huey's Mama.
The story does feel a little formulaic at times. But, then again, that seems to be what sells. Sometimes the songs impede the actors from truly connecting. "She's My Sister," a vocal fight between Huey and Felicia's brother Delray (RaMond Thomas), would be a more potent conflict-driving scene had it simply been dialogue - the way the proposal scene (a very powerful sans-music scene) works so well in the script.
The production values are as excellent as to be expected from any Broadway national tour. The sets, costumes, lighting, and scenic transitions all flow together seamlessly and without a hitch. Original direction by Christopher Ashley is recreated by Adam Arian for this tour. Original choreography by Sergio Trujillo is recreated by Jermaine R. Rembert. Chris Jahnke is the music supervisor and producer.
Memphis continues through Sunday June 8, 2014 at Popejoy Hall. Tickets can be purchased at the UNM Ticket Offices and select area Albertsons locations, or online at popejoypresents.com. To charge by phone, call (877) 664-8661 or (505) 925-5858. For more information on the tour, visit www.memphisthemusicalontour.com.