Left – cast of Memphis The Musical. Cover – Stephanie Marion Wood, Wem Etuknwa, Bianca Bruce. Photos – Jayde Justin
Continuing their exceptional season of productions, StageArt closes 2017 with perhaps their most ambitious project yet. Memphis, a jukebox musical with an upbeat score and a timely message to Australia.
Memphis is based loosely on the story of Dewey Phillips, a radio DJ who dared to play black musicians on what was then “white radio stations.” Memphis the Musical is set in a time of segregation and obscene racism and discrimination in 1950s America, where inequality was prevalent and anyone different was an outcast.
Enter Huey Calhoun, a loveable loser, down on his luck, out of work and with music in his heart. Specifically soul, rnb or what was considered “race music” in the era of segregation. Played by James Elmer (In the Heights, AGT, SYTYCD) he bumbles his way into Delray’s, a club owned by Delray Farrell, played by Iopu Auva’a (Hair, Dreamgirls, The Colour Purple) and immediately falls for singer Felicia Farrell (Elandrah Eramiha-Feo) and promises to make her a star by getting her played on the radio.
Through luck, exceptional timing and a fair dose of Hockadoo! Calhoun lands himself as the number one DJ in Memphis, playing “the music of his soul” to the listeners and fulfilling his promise to Felicia.
In his directorial debut, Dean Drieberg has done a wonderful job with the text, not shying away from the reality of discrimination in 1950s America and how relevant the inequality argument remains. With choreography by Kirra Sibel, Memphis is super high energy, and features exceptional jazz dancers. Applause for the ensemble cast for their ridiculously high jump splits and all-together gorgeous technique.
Mandi Lodge as Gladys Calhoun, Huey’s southern mother, is an absolute standout in this production. A magnetic performer, when Gladys sings she bring the house down.
There is so much to love about this production, but the obvious issue here is race, and while the cast is diverse, there are times it is not diverse enough and distracts from the story on stage.
Eramiha-Feo shines as Felicia as does the ensemble of funny, talented, dancer, singer, actors whom continue to uphold StageArt’s enduring reputation.
Memphis the Musical
music and lyrics David Bryan | lyrics and book Joe DiPietro
Director Dean Drieberg
Venue: Chapel off Chapel | 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran VIC
Dates: from 6 October 2017
Tickets: $49 – $69