Tony Award-winning 'Memphis' rocks 'n rolls into Phillips Center
Published: Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 12:46 p.m.
Walking down Beale Street in downtown Memphis in the 1950s would be like taking a crash course in the history of rock 'n' roll. From the door of every underground dance club, the taut rhythms and loud wails of rhythm and blues artists could be heard.
What: National touring performance of Broadway musical set in the early rock era of the 1950s.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Phillips Center, 3201 Hull Road
Tickets: $45-$65, $20 for UF students
Info: 392-2787, Ticketmaster.com
Such is the setting of the fresh-off-Broadway production “Memphis,” which visits the Phillips Center for a performance on Friday.
“Memphis,” which has won four Tony Awards including best musical, is loosely based on the life of the disc jockey Dewey Phillips, who was the first to broadcast Elvis Presley's debut single “That's All Right” through the Memphis airwaves. He became a champion of rock 'n' roll and regularly featured black artists in his programs. In “Memphis,” a young white DJ named Huey Calhoun falls into forbidden love with Felicia, a black singer looking for her big break.
Jerrial Young plays Bobby, who aids Huey in his quest to win Felicia's love. He says the interracial love story between the two main characters serves as an inspiration for audiences to follow their hearts, no matter the barriers that lie in their way.
“Huey makes mistakes. He loves Felicia so much he'll do anything, including disobeying the rules of black and white relations. He kisses her on live TV, which back then was a big no-no,” he says. “The message is key. Don't let anyone take away what's powerful and important to you — be that a career, a goal, the love of your life. There's a lot of negativity in this world. Defeat it.”
The musical features a Tony-winning original score by David Bryan, a founding member of New Jersey rock group Bon Jovi, and a live band of guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, trumpet and trombone. Young says “Memphis” is one of the most choreography-heavy productions in Broadway's history, and its many musical numbers tell the story of both white-and-black dance trends and their talents in the 1950s.
“There's not one night where we don't walk off the stage exhausted,” he says.
University of Florida Performing Arts Director Michael Blachly says though the production numbers of “Memphis” take place more than half a century ago, they will feel current to today's music fans.
“It references a time when the rock 'n' roll music we listen to today was just beginning. That's a time that has meaning for African-Americans, whites and Latinos alike,” he says. “The music is still timely and it's still fresh. The production is energizing.”
Young says the issues of prejudice and racism this production covers remain important for today's audiences.
“Race issues will always be there. That hatred still exists behind closed doors today,” he says. “This show lets the world know, this is how it was. And we don't want to repeat the past. We want to move forward.”
Blachly says by depicting scenes of racism in our past, “Memphis” highlights the strides that have been made to attain racial equality.
“In a university community where dialogue is important, something like this acts as a thread to hold us together.”