Directed by Bruce R. Coleman
Musical Direction by Pam Holcomb-McLain
Choreography by Kelly McCain
Cast (in alphabetical order)
Mr. Collins: Mikey Abrams
Ensemble Man: Billy Betsill
Clara, Ensemble: LisaAnne Haram
Huey: Kyle Igneczi
Bobby Big Love: Babakayode Ipaye
Felicia: Ebony Marshall-Oliver
Gator: Darren McElroy
Buck Wiley: Ian Mead Moore
DelRay: Calvin Roberts
Mama: Kristal Seid
Ensemble: Monique Abry, Victoria Biro, Jeremy Coca, Brendon Gallagher, Christian Houston, Jori Jackson, Quitin Jones, Nicholas Levingston, Kyle Montgomery, Johanna Nehekwube, Abigail Palmgreen, Rashaun Sibley
Reviewed Performance 5/2/2016
Reviewed by Holly Reed, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Memphis is set in the 1950s where rock & roll was born: the seedy underground nightclubs, radio stations and recording studios of the musically-rich Tennessee city. It is loosely based on renowned Memphis disc jockey Dewey Phillips, one of the first white DJs to play “race music” in the 1950s. With an original book and score by David Bryan (keyboard player, songwriter, and founding member of Bon Jovi) and Joe DiPietro (I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change and All Shook Up!), it tells the fictional story of Huey Calhoun, a white radio DJ with a passion for R&B music, and Felicia Farrell, an up-and-coming black singer at her older brother’s Beale Street club. Despite the objections of their loved ones (Huey’s close-minded mama and Felicia’s cautious brother), the two embark on a dangerous love affair.
Memphis played on Broadway from October, 2009, to August, 2012, winning four Tony Awards including Best Musical.
From the moment he entered DelRay’s night club floor, actor Kyle Igneczi (Huey Calhoun) captured my attention and my heart with quirky, clumsy, yet consistent mannerisms that throughout the show had an uncanny resemblance to actor Michael J. Fox. From first word he was believable. Kyle was always Huey, and even as he skirted offstage in various scenes his character choices and the truth of his situation remained intact in the darkness of the wings. His voice was gritty, backwoods, and even “untrained” when necessary, but Kyle proved vocally adept as his tenor beautifully rang through the theatre in “The Music of My Soul” and “Memphis Lives In Me.”
The cast was very much divided into two groups, Caucasian and African Americans, which obviously was instrumental in telling an accurate tale of Memphis. However, the African American ensemble group was much stronger vocally and much more truthful in acting. I debated on whether the white cast was intentionally holding back and leaning toward “stock acting” to emphasize the shallowness of the white race in context, which is understandable, but I think it would possibly have been stronger if the white cast was more truthful and not so extreme in being two dimensional characters. Portraying white folk as dumb and shallow might perhaps excuse some of their despicable behavior, but knowing people from that era that are neither ignorant nor shallow (yet highly prejudiced) makes me want to see their “respective” characters as real, conflicted, and passionate….albeit incorrect in those passions. Some of the humor built into the music/lyrics inherently elevates the white folk to a more superficial level, but I feel that (with the exception of Kyle Igneczi) the African American cast outshined the Caucasian cast in their level of commitment to character and authenticity.
Ebony Marshall-Oliver was stunning in her portrayal of Felicia Ferrell. Always the perfect counterpart and scene partner to Kyle (Huey), their chemistry on stage was palpable. Ebony’s beautiful soprano voice soared on her solo numbers and mounted majestically atop the choir vocals on the group songs. She consistently exhibited a sweet, innocent, brave and wise spirit radiating from her very core.
Calvin Roberts (DelRay) was a stalwart of a big-brother and claimed one of my favorite songs and moments in the show—“She’s My Sister.” From hushed warnings in a light tone to a belting bravado in protection of his precious sibling, Roberts (DelRay) was a powerhouse of strength and love in song, character, and believability.
Coming from southern gospel roots, I loved the soulful interpretation of the music and appreciated the joy, freedom, and hope that was demonstrated by the ensemble in songs such as “Say a Prayer,” “Stand Up,” and “Love Will Stand When All Else Fails.”
The dance component was very strong in Theatre Three’s rendition of Memphis under the direction of multiple COLUMN Award winner choreographer Kelly McCain. The ensemble was made up of outstanding, well-trained dancers who were natural yet precise in their movements. At times, vocals were sacrificed at the expense of dance, especially in the upbeat numbers. The energetic, well-executed movements enabled the cast to move as a whole. Each dancer enjoyed and responded to their corresponding partner’s strengths. The choreography style was very consistent with the time period and reflected the physical escape dance provided which was so necessary in a time of high social turbulence.
Theatre Three is a relatively modest theater-in-the-round with a seating/stage layout allowing for 3 main focal points: the main floor and two lifted areas in opposing corners of the room. With an absence of large wings to bring large set pieces in and out, scenic designer Michelle Harvey and lighting designer Amanda West chose to be creative and sparse with set design and props using just enough to indicate setting but not slow momentum in scene changes. The static sets in the two opposing upper corners were vintage radio/television booths, not overly decorated, but simple and versatile for various roles they played in the show. The main floor, painted with vintage records, served as all other locations using basic tables, boxes and old-fashioned mic stands to carry the audience through various other settings. I was impressed that the lack of major set pieces did not detract from the story. On the contrary, it gave characters opportunity to create their own surroundings and allow the audience’s imagination to fill in the scenery gaps.
It was mentioned before the show by director Bruce Coleman that there was an overabundance of costumes needed for this show. Costume designer Tory Padden procured accurate and appealing vintage 1950’s apparel for each cast member. Huey Calhoun’s outfit was especially darling—quirky, vibrant and slightly random as fitting to his personality.
The show excelled on all technical levels for the most part. The only negative I would mention was the audio mix on a few occasions. I thought perhaps I heard prerecorded ensemble voices in one of the early numbers, which was disturbing, but also could have been a phasing issue in the audio mix. I enjoyed the presence of a live band to accompany and underscore, and their timing with the actors was flawless. However, the quality of the sound from the band was screechy a few times and had a tendency to overpower the ensemble vocals.
Overall, the show was wonderful. I was in tears at intermission and broken at the history of our country—the hate, bigotry, hypocrisy and blindness our vocal majority once held. I am thankful for misfits like Huey Calhoun who are not blinded by society but sharpened and challenged by it. Sharpened to see through hollow facades and challenged to stand up to a bogus status quo. The original intent of the authors was clearly conveyed by this outstanding cast. I left saddened, but grateful, having laughed and cried at both ends of truth in our society. “Change Don’t Come Easy,” but thankfully, it does come.
Theatre Three Dallas, 2800 Routh Street, Suite #168. Dallas, Texas 75201
Through May 22, 2016
For dates, times, prices, etc. for tickets, visit www.Theatre3Dallas.com
Shows are Thursday evenings at 7:30pm, Friday through Saturday evenings at 8pm, and Sundays at 2:30pm. Sunday evening performances will be held May 1 and May 15 at 7:30pm. There will be a Saturday matinee on May 21 at 2:30 and a “hooky” matinee on Wednesday, May 11 at 2:30pm.
To purchase tickets, visit www.Theatre3Dallas.com or call 214.871.3300 (option 1), or visit the box office at Theatre Three Dallas, 2800 Routh Street, Suite #168, Dallas. Tickets range from $25-$50. Seniors receive $3 discount. Groups of 10 or more eligible for $3 discount per ticket. T3 community tickets (faculty/staff/alumni) are $10 each.