Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

January 12, 2012


The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through January 15, 2012
by Shera Cohen

The Bushnell just keeps on bringing Broadway Tony Award winning musicals to Hartford. This week’s production is one from that short list of winners -- “Memphis.” Yes, New York is a nice place to visit, and theatre is perhaps the best of the best. However, do not ignore the classy, professional productions mounted in Hartford.

The story is Memphis, Tennessee in 1951 and the birth of rock ‘n roll. The first image seen is a giant radio dial, then the voice of a refined DJ, followed by music of Perry Como and Patty Paige. A moment later, the lights pop up on the dance floor of a tucked away nightclub and headliner Felicia. The rousing opening number, “Underground,” is full of energy, verve, rhythm, fun, lively music, and black singers/dancers. In walks Huey, a disheveled white hick who wants what the others have. He is oblivious to color.

While the emphasis of “Memphis” is music and dance – and there is plenty of it throughout – the story is fully developed (although predictable) and important. Rock ‘n roll represent black vs. white. It’s their music. No, it’s our music. These are fighting words. Yet, all could be right with the world through the melding of music, particularly heard in the beautiful and meaningfully song “The Music of My Soul.”

One flaw in the production is the lack of chemistry between Huey and Felicia. Color is definitely not the issue. Completely different personalities, levels of sophistication, and philosophies do not always mean that opposites attract. Does the fault lie in the actors or the story or both? The answer is difficult.

“Memphis” is a big show, told smoothly through simple sliding and rising set elements, bright lights, and rockin’ pit and onstage bands. Even if Huey and Felicia are not Romeo and Juliet, their surroundings full of countless ensemble dance numbers and singing pros keep the show moving, and the audience on their feet for a standing ovation.