Let me tell you what I expected upon entering the Fox Theater Tues. night for the opening show of Memphis: The Musical. Happy music with more repetitive lyrics than actual plot twists, beautiful people, slick production quality and most importantly the guy getting the girl.
Set in the racially charged South in the 1950’s, this story tells the tale of a young, poor white man, Huey Calhoun (Bryan Fenkart), with a passion for the blues. Jim Crow laws and his family keep him from pursuing his obsession until his father dies. Then he feels he is free to cross town and go where that music is being generated.
After meeting his muse, the stunning Felicia (Felicia Boswell), the story of their love affair and career paths unfold. We watch him become a popular radio DJ and later a television personality, providing opportunities for her to showcase her extraordinary talents. Fear and the violent environment of the times, torture their relationship. Huey is simple and wants to declare his feelings to the world, regardless of the consequences. Felicia, worries about their safety and the success of her singing career and keeps him at arm’s length. Coming from different races, backgrounds and culture they see the situation from very different perspectives.
The tension builds up until the end of the play. The opportunity for both of them to go to NYC arises. She wants him to join her so she can become the artist she has always wanted to become. In the North they can love in the open. He doesn’t want to leave the city he calls home, and wants her to stay and defend their love against the racial tyranny of the South.
Fenkart and Boswell’s performances are spot on. They had me the moment they set eyes on one another. The thick connection between them never brakes, from the first kiss to the deliberations about what the future holds. Their exaggerated differences create the chemistry that drives the story forward.
So we get the beautiful people, slick production quality. But we also get heavy plot twists and really great blues and rock and roll music. I’m not, however going to tell you what happens in the end, you’ll just have to stop by the Fox Theater this weekend and find out for yourself.