The Column Online



Music & Lyrics: David Bryan
Book & Lyrics: Joe DiPietro

Music Theatre of Denton

Huey Calhoun - Jonathan McInnis
Felicia Farrell - Christian Houston
Delray Farrell - Chris Portley
Gator - Justin D. Weathers
Bobby - Sydney Barber
Gladys "Mama" Calhoun - Amanda Rose Fisher
Mr. Simmons - Matthew Hall

Beale Street Ensemble:
Ethel, Someday Singer - Damara M. Williams
Dancer, Hopscotch Teen - Areanna Rhodes
Someday Singer, Hopscotch Teen - Jasmine Jones
Someday Singer, Hopscotch Teen - Rae Perry
Reverend Hobson, Be Black Trio - Robert Allen
Wailin' Joe, Be Black Trio - Benjamin Bolden
Dancer, Hopscotch Teen - Tommy Toliver
DJ, Be Black Trio, Hopscotch Teen - Trey Weeden

Main Street Ensemble
Teen Girl #1 - Sementa Alldredge
Teen Girl #2 - Emily Burrus (dance captain)
Clara, White Mother, Stage Manager - Shelly Pinder
Buck Wiley, Martin Holton - David K. Pierce
Mr. Collins, White Father, Gordon Grant - Stephen Graves
DJ, Teen Boy #1 - Reid Sullivan
Perry Como, Frank Dryer, Teen Boy #2 - Dillon Hanson

Director - Theresa Ferrell
Assistant Director - Sienna Riehle
Music Direction - Benjamin Brown
Choreography - Kristi Lee Smith
Stage Manager - Allison Ivey
Assistant Stage Manager - Jessica Deleon
Sound Designer - Pat Schaider
Lighting Design - John Norine Jr.
Costume Designer - Nathan Scott
Hair & Make-Up Designer - Tianta Harrison
Scene Designer - Tony Rose
Props Designer - Hunter Barnett
Light Board Operator - Jason Joos
Sound Board Operator - Pat Schaider
Set Builders - Tony Rose, Don McSheehy (Master Carpenter) and Harper Carr
Stage Crew - Danelle Hall, Elizabeth Jorgensen, Matthew Martinez and Kimberly D. Williams
Producer - David K Pierce

Orchestra: Benjamin Brown (Conductor), Paul Lees, Marcus Wheat, Javier Luna, Henry Dickhoff, Aaron Sutton, Brendon Wilkins, Tyler Harvey, JaRod Hall, Brenton Wolfe

Reviewed Performance: 5/6/2018

Reviewed by Darlene Singleton, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Inspired by actual events, MEMPHIS is about a white radio DJ who wants to change the world and a black club singer who is ready for her big break. The story is loosely based on Memphis disc jockey Dewey Phillips, one of the first white DJs to play black music in the 1950s. MEMPHIS won four 2010 Tony Awards including Best Musical and two 2015 Olivier Awards.

This is the story of Huey Calhoun (played by Jonathan McInnis), a young, open-minded white man who goes underground to Delray’s, a black rock and roll bar in 1950 Memphis, where he meets and falls in love with the club singer, Felicia Farrell (played by Christian Houston), who yearns to find herself in New York City.

The regulars at Delray’s are surprised that this white man has entered their space at the bar, but Huey tells them he is there for the music and as the show evolves they begin to form various degrees of relationships. Huey is a high school dropout, living with his racist Mama on the poor side of town. His passion is for rhythm and blues, rock and roll, and sharing race music in the segregated South at a time when Tennessee laws made it illegal for whites and blacks to mix.

In a span of four years (and two hours of a Sunday afternoon), Huey transitions from being a high school dropout; to a stock boy in the local department store; to the Number One radio personality in Memphis and - important to know it is with a station in the middle of the radio dial; to falling in love with Felicia Farrell, the young black singer looking for a break; to being unemployed before landing a job with a low budget and low rated station on - again important to know, the upper end of the radio dial (he jokes that they have exactly one listener).

Now with all that said – this story centers around Huey, but Christian Houston as Felicia Farrell shares the designation of STAR of the show. Her vocal renditions riveted the audience in every song she sang and she “looks as pretty as she sounds”. The chemistry between Houston and McInnis was very believable and I enjoyed watching them onstage as they became friends, lovers, estranged, then back to being close friends. I fully expect to see Christian on a Broadway stage in the not too distant future. She was marvelous.

McInnis was extremely entertaining to watch as he took his character up the ladder, rung by rung, to the heights of fame and stardom - ultimately taking a hard fall back down that same ladder. His interpretation of the groove within each song was so fun to watch. His sometimes subtle (and not so subtle) mannerisms from a slide of a foot, to a shake of his head, or a roll of a shoulder made me want to get on stage and become part of the ensemble. I did refrain from standing at my seat to shout hallelujah during his rendition of ‘Memphis Lives in Me’, but I caught myself swaying to and fro several times.

Gladys “Mama” Calhoun was played by Amanda Rose Fisher and it was fun to watch her transition from an overt racist to an understanding and acceptance of her son’s choice of friends and lifestyle. Her rendition of ‘Change Don’t Come Easy’ and the lyrics ‘He told us to pray some, he told us to sway some, He told us the good Lord made us equal inside’ put the audience smack-dab in the palm of her hands.

If for no other reason to see this show you must go see Justin D. Weathers as Gator and hear him sing ‘Say A Prayer’. Wowzer! Gator is one of the regulars at Delray’s and he hasn’t said a word since he was a child and witnessed the lynching of his father. After Felicia is attacked and beaten he diffuses the tension among his friends by speaking his first words in years – Say A Prayer. I remember the discontent of the 60s and had I been old enough to take a stand against the racial injustice during that time period, this is the song I would have wanted to sing. The whole scene is mesmerizing – my simple description does not do his performance justice. Please, please go see it for yourself.

I want to give kudos to Chris Portley who portrayed Delray Farrell – hubba hubba HOCKADOO. He has such a compelling presence on stage and gave the Sunday audience a powerful delivery of ‘She's My Sister’. He is also one to watch climb the ladder of theater success.

The orchestra led by conductor Benjamin Brown did an excellent job and their presence onstage blended seamlessly with the cast throughout the production.

Attention to detail is critical for an overall great production and this show had a few faults. Many of the costumes were not period ranging from mini dresses to maxi dresses and everything in between, and to see bras straps and backs (in various shades) exposed on several of the female ensemble was distracting – it wasn’t part of the costume and this would be considered inappropriate during the 1950s - these oversights were a huge distraction to both my guest and myself. Props and set pieces were minimal and elementary in creation. For a show this size and with the caliber of talent on the stage all elements of the show should be top-notch.

The glittery shine on this production is the CAST. They give it their all and I was entertained from the moment they all walked and danced onstage. As I left the theater there was one message that resonated – for several reasons. It’s a quote from John F Kennedy – ‘One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.’