Saturday, July 07, 2012

Memphis: The Musical

I'm sure you've probably seen it already, but if not, correct that at once!

The last few NYC trips I decided not to see it b/c I knew it was coming to FtL and I thought I could just wait for the tour, so that allowed me to see more stuff in the city.

Well, last night, we accidentally found it on Netflix! Original cast, just a filmed recording of the Broadway production (good quality, not like that tragic West Coast filmed version of Naked Boys Singing which somehow made both fun music and male nudity boring!) and it was fabulous.

I'm kind of new to the filmed version thing...I remember the special PBS version (no audience) of Joseph/Dream Coat, the filmed production of Company (well, two filmed productions, one for PBS - terrible, and the other for the big screen with Neal Patrick Harris- wonderful), the PBS version of CATS, and the PBS recording of the live performances of The Women and The Man Who Came to Dinner. I was given a DVD version of the last cast for RENT (Broadway cast before it reopened Off-Broadway)..., OK, maybe i'm not so new to the phenomenon after all. But thsi was the first time I accessed on through NetFlix.

I must say, I much prefer the stage productions on film to the plays made into movies (often miscast and almost always dropping 1-3 great songs): Hairspray, Chicago, Oklahoma!, Carousel, Guys & Dolls, Nine, etc.

Anywhoo, got a front row seat on Broadway in the living room in Florida for Memphis. It's loosely based on the life/career of Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips (character's name is Huey Calhoun in the musical), who was one of the first white DJs in Memphis to play music by African American artists.

the story takes place during the decade between 1951 and 1961, an unenlightened time in US Southern history to be sure. The story is about the rise and fall of an illiterate DJ son of a racist mother who falls in love first with R&B music and then with an unknown R&B artist.

Calhoun's speech pattern is at first strange and annoying, and later endearing. I don't know why the peculiar speech pattern was adopted. Maybe it was based on Phillips' speech. the music and dancing in the show are amazing and the set is both simple and sophisticated at the same time.

A romance between Calhoun and the artist he discovers and promotes (Felicia) is forbidden not only by cultural prejudices but also by state law. So they keep it on the low, but eventually they are suspected and are even brutally attacked by racist thugs once. that doesn't end their relationship, but later, when Felicia has a chance to go to NYC they have a chance to really be together. They will have to be discreet if Felicia is to have national appeal, but their love will no longer be criminal.

Felicia arranges for Huey to get a shot (competing against Dick Clark) for a national TV music show, but Huey is scared to leave his local success but doesn't want to lose Felicia, so he tries to sabotage the NY opportunity by kissing Felicia on local television. For safety, Felicia has to immediately leave town. He doesn't go with her, and four years later we discover Felicia is now a national R&B singing sensation, and Huey has gone from the number 1 DJ in the middle of the dial to a virtually unknown DJ way up on the dial. He guesses that his audience may be as small as a single listener. But on tour, Felicia returns to Memphis to sing at the Orpheum and so she stops by Huey's radio station to reconnect and to invite him to participate in her show. He is heartbroken to learn she has a fiancee and at first refuses to be a guest in her concert. But at the end, he does join her on the stage.

The script brilliantly does what even ancient scriptures sometimes do ("Daniel" writes about Nebuchadnezzar as a way to criticize Antiochus IV Epiphanes and "John" writes about Babylon as a way to criticize Rome). By showing the pain and injustice of laws and taboos that kept biracial marriages from happening, the show also shows the injustice of marriage equality being denied to same-gender loving people. There is even the assumption made by some white characters that "Christian" means white and Christian-white means remaining separate from people of color. Using religion to justify hatred and fear is another queer connection.
AND, by placing the story in the past, but not the too distant past, the problems of racism which still persist in many ways are also highlighted. And, by putting human faces to love derailed by hatred and ignorance, it shows the personal tragedy that results from bigotry.

Well, if you haven't seen it - rush to Net Flix now.

if you aren't familiar with Net Flix, for $9 a month it can become your friend, or you may have friends with Net Flix...exploit that connection at once! Even if the tour is coming to town, why not see the original Bway cast first?

I expected a Tony winning musical to be good, but it was better than i even hoped. I think you'll like it.

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