Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Theater Review: Memphis

Give This One 45 RPMs -- for Really Pleasing Musical
By Lauren Yarger
A terrific score by Bon Jovi’s David Bryan, a story full of heart, humor and heat by Joe DiPietro (book) an outstanding vocals spin Memphis into one of the most exciting and satisfying musicals to hit Broadway since Next to Normal.

Chad Kimball plays Huey, a never-do-well department salesman who finds his niche as a radio DJ in 1950s Memphis by spinning the “black” music he hears hanging out a club run by Delray (J. Bernard Calloway) instead of the usual “Perry Coma” stuff to which white listeners have become accustomed.

Huey loves something else at the club too: Delray’s sister, Felicia (mega-talented Montego Glover), who dreams of making it big as a singer. Huey’s mother (Cass Morgan) opposes the match, as does Delray and some of the musical’s finest moments come in the interaction between him and Huey as the men take stands for what they believe in while sharing mutual respect. The couple decides to keep their interracial romance, sure to be a powder keg in the midst of civil rights unrest, a secret, though Huey believes Memphis will embrace it as they have him. Eventually, he discovers he's wrong.

Fame is just around the corner for Huey as he auditions to host an American Bandstand-like national TV show, but the networks want to replace his black dancers with white teens. Meanwhile, Felicia has a chance at a label, but it means leaving Huey.
The musical is just very satisfying. There’s bounce in Sergio Trujillo’s choreography, varied and catchy beats in Bryan’s music, humor and tight plot in DiPietro’s book (he and Bryan, who collaborated on off-Broadway’s Toxic Avenger co-wrote the lyrics for Memphis as well) and those really terrific vocals. Kimball is sexy and engaging as Huey and sings his lungs out. Glover hits amazing notes and the rest of the ensemble is great too, particularly Calloway, who performs one number during which it’s hard to hold your seat (you want to get up and dance). David Gallo’s set and co-production design lighted by Howell Binkley with sparkly, swingy costumes by Paul Tazewell bring the era to life (I really enjoyed music groups performing in giant spinning 45s).

Don’t be deceived by your impression of the opening number which is a large musical number full of people you don’t know singing words you can’t hear (Ken Travis, sound design) and as the weakest part of the production, will have you thinking, “what the heck?” But almost like a light switching on, the musical takes shape immediately following. From there on out, Christopher Ashley expertly directs the action, whether it’s a full-scale dance number or a quiet romantic scene with gusto and brings everything together for a toe tapping, heart-tugging, fully satisfying story.

Memphis rocks out at the Sam S. Shubert Theatre
225 West 44th St, NYC. Discounted tickets can be purchased here. Indicate Masterwork Productions is the religious charity you wish to support.

Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• Sex outside of marriage

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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