Review: 'Memphis' tour at Clowes Hall

April 2, 2014
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

The musical “Memphis” (playing Clowes Hall through April 6 as part of the Broadway in Indianapolis series) is a lot like its lead character. It’s awkward yet oddly compelling. It’s overflowing with both soul and cheese. And it tends to state the obvious, repeatedly.

It’s the 1950s and white Huey is a drop-out music lover in the title town who becomes fascinated with African-American singer Felicia. Can he make her a star? Will he get a job? Will they fall in love? What will it mean to the music when it moves from the fringes of the radio dial to the center (where it will reach white audiences)?

One of the big pleasures, especially in the show’s first act, is that we don’t know the answers to any of these questions. That’s because “Memphis” is the rare musical these days that is not based on a movie or book. And it actually has an original score as well. And if you can ignore the expositional, obvious lyrics, there are musical pleasures to be had throughout and Jasmin Richardson is in particularly good voice as Felicia (of her accent, though, the less said the better).

Another pleasure is that Huey (here played by Joey Elrose with less twitchiness than his Broadway counterpart) isn’t very bright. And he continues to not be very bright through the end of the show. It seems odd to say, but his cluelessness actually makes the story more interesting. Here’s hoping for a future production in which Felicia is played just as dumb. Like “Carousel” and “Oklahoma!, “Memphis” would benefit from having both leads less poised. Their romance would certainly be easier to believe.

The supporting cast here is inconsistent, ranging from the engaging, in-the-moment Jerrial T. Young as a jovial janitor pushed into the spotlight to a dance ensemble that included a few dead-faced ensemble members phoning it in. Life on the road is hard, folks, but your job is to not show it.

I won’t do any spoiling, but I will say that I admire the show more for some of the clichés it avoids in the rushed second act more than for what it does to avoid them. For maximum enjoyment, it’s helpful to put aside the fact that “Memphis” is a Tony-winning Best Musical (it was a slow year) and just appreciate that it’s certainly a step up from the likes of “Ghost” and “Flashdance.”

I left the theater humming “You Can’t Stop the Beat.”

Unfortunately, that song is from “Hairspray.”

  • Huey
    There will only be one Huey - Chad Kimball! Without him the magic is gone for me. Seeing Memphis on Broadway was an amazing experience.
  • Huey
    I was at the Tuesday evening showing. I tried, but I simply could not get into this show! I can't put my finger on exactly why I didn't like it. I do think one of the main reasons I didn't enjoy it is that I couldn't relate to the main character Huey. His character was overall annoying and clumsy and the actor was not a great singer. I know this is how the role was designed, but I couldn't get into it. The highlight of my evening was walking out and hearing someone behind us say, "That show had a lot of music, and dancing!" I guess she's never been to a musical before!
  • At least it is original
    Lou, you wrote my exact thoughts. We didn't get to see the original on Broadway, but we did catch the original Broadway production on Netflix a few years ago. The touring company lacked the energy of the Broadway production. It seemed like everyone was just road weary and not giving it their all like they would in NYC. I found the most moving part of the show, musically, to be Gator's song at the end of the 1st act. Like you, I too was caught singing "You can't stop the beat" in my head, but for me it started even before the show. The musical style is similar, but Hairspray had much more memorable songs. The best thing about Memphis is that it is an original musical with fresh songs and a plot that didn't come from a movie. Now, when will BAA bring us more original works like War Horse and Fela and stop dragging out that tired red-headed orphan?

Post a comment to this blog

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
  1. The $104K to CRC would go toward debts service on $486M of existing debt they already have from other things outside this project. Keystone buys the bonds for 3.8M from CRC, and CRC in turn pays for the parking and site work, and some time later CRC buys them back (with interest) from the projected annual property tax revenue from the entire TIF district (est. $415K / yr. from just this property, plus more from all the other property in the TIF district), which in theory would be about a 10-year term, give-or-take. CRC is basically betting on the future, that property values will increase, driving up the tax revenue to the limit of the annual increase cap on commercial property (I think that's 3%). It should be noted that Keystone can't print money (unlike the Federal Treasury) so commercial property tax can only come from consumers, in this case the apartment renters and consumers of the goods and services offered by the ground floor retailers, and employees in the form of lower non-mandatory compensation items, such as bonuses, benefits, 401K match, etc.

  2. $3B would hurt Lilly's bottom line if there were no insurance or Indemnity Agreement, but there is no way that large an award will be upheld on appeal. What's surprising is that the trial judge refused to reduce it. She must have thought there was evidence of a flagrant, unconscionable coverup and wanted to send a message.

  3. As a self-employed individual, I always saw outrageous price increases every year in a health insurance plan with preexisting condition costs -- something most employed groups never had to worry about. With spouse, I saw ALL Indiana "free market answer" plans' premiums raise 25%-45% each year.

  4. It's not who you chose to build it's how they build it. Architects and engineers decide how and what to use to build. builders just do the work. Architects & engineers still think the tarp over the escalators out at airport will hold for third time when it snows, ice storms.