MvVO Art Launches AD ART SHOW
Out of Town

Memphis –  Melancholy Musical Militancy

Memphis –  Melancholy Musical Militancy
Aeriel Williams, Liam Quealy

Aeriel Williams, Liam Quealy

Every so often I get the opportunity to review something truly unique. Porchlight Theatre’s Memphis is a truly special gem. I attended late in the show’s run, but felt compelled to still sing its praises. This four time Tony Award-winning 2010 musical about a white radio DJ who wants to change the world by integrating black music on pop radio is just  as poignant today as it is in its 1950’s setting. Director Daryl Brooks once again teams with leading lady Aeriel Williams to craft something truly magical. Their previous collaboration, The Black Pearl: The Story of Josephine Baker, one of the best productions ever staged at the Black Ensemble Theater,  won them both critical praise and several local award nominations, including a Black Excellence Award for Best Director. Lightening has definitely struck twice for this talented twosome.

Aeriel Williams

Aeriel Williams

This inspired by a true story tale really finds its footing when focusing on the forbidden love story between the DJ and Chanteuse. Felicia Farrell (Aeriel Williams) is a beautiful and talented  black nightclub singer attracted to self described “red neck” retail clerk/radio personality, Huey Calhoun (Liam Quealy). Bringing “race music” to a largely young and white audience, Calhoun quickly becomes the hottest thing on the dial. Think the Dick Clark or Ryan Seacrest of his day, but with a serious twang. Meeting after a chance encounter at Delray’s Underground Nightclub, the couple face disapproving reactions from both sides. Aeriel’s brother Delray Jones (Lorenzo Rush, Jr. Chicago’s version of the velvet voiced Luther Vandross) and Huey’s waitress mother, Gladys Calhoun (Nancy Wagner) are both no where near on board for this couple getting together. Just a word of warning, there is a disturbing scene of violence depicted as a group of young white thugs attack the young couple, that is purposely jarring. Casiena Raether’s fight choreography is effectively haunting, currently reflected almost weekly on the national news in Trump’s contemporary America. Equally disturbing and senseless in both venues.

Aeriel Williams

Aeriel Williams

Before you get the idea this show is all politics, it truly isn’t. The book and lyrics were written by Bon Jovi keyboardist Joe DiPietro, and the athletic and enthusiastic choreography by Christopher Carter and Reneisha Jenkins had the audience almost dancing in the isles. Porchlight’s Musical Directer Jermaine Hill was also clearly having a ball. If I may single out three more individual performers, Gilbert Domally’s  Gator is the grounding heart and soulful voice standout of the cast. James Earl Jones, II continues his legacy of stealing every scene  he is in, literally cartwheeling during his act two “Big Daddy” solo and as Wailin’ Joe, Stephen “Blu” Allen distinguished himself as both powerful singer and bold dancer. He is young, but with a resume that includes The Scottsboro Boys, Jesus Christ Superstar, Five Guys Named Moe and Violet, he is a bright and bold new talent clearly and quickly going places. The Gospel flavored, passionately sung pieces prove both heartbreaking and affecting. From “Everybody Wants to be Black on Saturday Night” to “Stand Up” and “Change Don’t Come Easy” Memphis is adrenalized activism through song significantly deeper in soul and story telling than the more popular, Hairspray the musical. My only legitimate complaint, the show ran out of steam by the usually high stepping closing number “Steal Your Rock’N’Roll.” Unfortunately the cast was reduced to pedestrian show choir antics, several steps below what had been displayed during the previous 90 minutes of music and dance.

Aeriel Williams

Aeriel Williams

The remainder of the creative team included scenic design Jacqueline Penrod and Richard Penrod, costuming by Bill Morey, Denise Karczewski’s lighting and sound design by Robert Hornbostel. With a powerful score, a troupe of spirited and capable vocal talent and solid dancers, it is understandable how this rendition of Memphis has extended its run twice. Porchlight Theatre has an unmitigated hit on its hands. Everyone say “Hockadoo!” before Memphis has to hightail it off the Ruth Page Center for the Arts’ stage. You will be improved and inspired by the proceedings.

Porchlight Theatre’s Memphis is now playing at The Ruth Page Center for the Arts

Out of Town

Stephen S. Best is currently a freelance writer for the Times Square Chronicles, covering the performing arts scene in the greater Chicagoland area. He has been a theater aficionado for years, attending his first live production, Annie, at the tender age of six. After graduating from Purdue University, Stephen honed his skills attending live theater, concerts and art installations in New York and Chicago. Stephen's keen eye and thorough appreciation for both theater patrons' time and entertainment dollar makes him a valuable asset and his recommendations key. Stephen currently lives in downtown Chicago.

More in Out of Town

Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge! Storms and Pop Mashes Boston Triumphantly

RossAugust 11, 2018

My View: Opening Night – West Side Story at Barrington Stage Co.

Stephen SorokoffAugust 9, 2018
Chris Taylor, JoJo Pender, Samuel Martin,Eldridge Shannon III

Defacing Michael Jackson – Wanna Be Startin’ Something, Sorta

Stephen BestAugust 8, 2018
Ana Gasteyer, Roger Bart,Megan Hilty

Annie at The Hollywood Bowl

Ariana AshfordAugust 1, 2018

Broadway Comes To Provincetown

Suzanna BowlingJuly 31, 2018
Jill Eikenberry, Michael Tucker

Husband and Wife Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker, John Glover and More Head to New Jersey Rep

Genevieve Rafter KeddyJuly 25, 2018
Tommy Tune, Company XIV

Tommy Tune Checks Out Boylesque Bullfight

Suzanna BowlingJuly 24, 2018

Newsies Jumps and Leaps To The Top at The John W. Engeman Theater

Genevieve Rafter KeddyJuly 23, 2018
The Mavericks

The Mavericks Brand New Day

Genevieve Rafter KeddyJuly 20, 2018