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'Memphis' is a glossy, rocking, touching story

Published: Thursday, May 29 2014 10:25 a.m. MDT

Members of the national touring cast of "Memphis" perform.

Jeremy Daniel

"MEMPHIS THE MUSICAL," Broadway Across America production, Capitol Theatre; 7:30 p.m. through June 1; running time: 2 hours 30 minutes with one intermission

SALT LAKE CITY — Bravo!

And thank goodness things have changed. Some of the racial barriers that existed during the setting of "Memphis The Musical" have been battered down and people can, for the most part, move along in life unfettered by petty bigotry and hatred based on color.

For those unfamiliar with "Memphis," it's the story of a determined, fearless but somewhat naive disc jockey who wants to share the energy and life of the African-American culture's rock music.

From the moment Huey Calhoun walks boldly into an all-black nightclub, it's clear that he isn't going to pay much attention to the societal rules that separate the races.

He really doesn't get the magnitude of the problem, even after he falls in love with the beautiful Felicia.

He goes against the social tide, proving to the station boss, his "good Christian" mother and Felicia's brother that attitudes can change.

The problem is, it takes time, and along the journey, there's a heavy price to pay.

Felicia, played by Jasmin Richardson with heart and bravado, has amazing vocal range and power. She's also vulnerable in that she knows exactly what she and Huey are taking on. She tries to explain it to him at one point. "You get to be white whenever you want. I'm black all of the time."

She also has some of the best lines: "When do you know a man is lying? When he opens his mouth!"

The sidekick janitor-turned-rock-star character, Bobby, is a surprise and a delight to watch as he goes from his deer-in-the-headlights mode to full-on entertainer for the cameras. When he actually turns a cartwheel later on, he brings down the house.

Gator is another welcome surprise when he finds his voice, a voice that was shut down after he saw his father lynched.

Mama, played by Pat Sibley, turns her minor, supporting role into one that's engaging and insightful as she goes from disapproving to converted — a liberated and warm-hearted fan of rock and soul.

Huey, played by Joey Elrose, is remarkable in that he's so clueless yet smart as he recognizes talent and the value of people and stands up for the right choices.

He gives life to a show that could easily be a downer. He believes in rock and soul and in Felicia's voice and thus goes from dropping dishes to hosting his own TV show ("I can't even spell TV!" he says.)

He won't be pigeon-holed into reading stale ad copy on the air or wearing a suit on network television that doesn't want his black singers. He doesn't back off even when it endangers those he loves.

Here is a show that builds upon the simple, true story of DJ Dewey Phillips as it takes on prejudice, shows a need for compassion and expands to statements about accepting others.

The ensemble backup singers and trio members perform yeoman's service as they sing, stomp, dance and literally rock out with sharp choreography, glitzy costuming and spot-on pacing.

The ensemble includes Oyoyo Joi Bonner from Utah County.

This show, written by David Bryan and Joe DiPietro and directed by Christopher Ashley, won four Tony Awards in 2010, including Best Musical.

Content advisory: Mild profanities, one F-word, some high-slit skirts and low necklines. Gunshots, a domestic slapping and a gang-style beating.

Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with more than 35 years' experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.

Email: haddoc@deseretnews.com

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