Opened: October 19, 2009
Memphis Director: Christopher Ashley
Memphis Music By: David Bryan, Joe DiPietro
Memphis Lyrics By: Joe DiPietro
Theatre: Shubert Theatre
Theatre Location: 225 West 44th Street, New York, NY
Tony Award Nominations: 8
Tony Awards Wins: 4
Notable Actors: Chad Kimball
Dewey "Daddy-O" Phillips was a leader in the music industry of Memphis, Tennessee, as the star of the "Red, Hot & Blue" radio and television show during the 1950's. On air, the DJ was known for his frantic, hillbilly persona and a keen sense of humor that kept listeners returning for more. Stationed in a bustling river city that was home to both blacks and whites, Phillips pioneered the way disk jockeys approached radio by embracing the music of both ethnicities. Entertaining listeners in between renditions of rhythm and blues, country music, boogie-woogie and jazz, Phillips reached national attention with his antics on WHBQ/560.
Almost 60 years later, the Broadway musical Memphis commemorates his career by drawing on elements of his life to tell a compelling story of music, love and the city that that made both possible.
The play chronicles the story of Huey Calhoun, a white disk jockey who struggles to compete in a business that is generally unwilling to play what owners call "black music." The story begins as Huey enters Delray's, an African-American underground rock bar, to see the live music that he adores. Despite obvious racial tension, the story's hero winds up dating and falling in love with Delray's sister, Felicia, and they begin a relationship that is centered on a passion for music and beleaguered by the public's unwillingness to accept an interracial couple.
The start of the play - a white man in a black music lounge - sets the scene for the story, which assumes a dark but melodic tenor that shapes the aching love story that ensues. The tuneful musical crescendos as Huey slowly becomes the favored disk jockey in Memphis and Felicia becomes a music sensation.
As both protagonists are about to make it on the national stage, their careers get in the way of their relationship, and a harmonious union is weighed down by the pressures of fame, racial conflict, dreams and Huey's unwillingness to leave Memphis.
In the original 2009 Broadway cast, Huey is played by Chad Kimball, who has appeared in the off-Broadway rendition of "Godspell", as well as "Lennon," "Good Vibrations," "Sweeney Todd" and "Baby." His co-star, Montego Glover, is favored to win a Tony Award for her performance as Felicia, the young black singer breaking out in a white-controlled Memphis music industry. Many believe her stage presence in Memphis has made her the next big Broadway star.
Memphis won 4 awards at the 2010 Tonys, including Best Musical. With that victory it became the first musical that depicts the lives of black characters to win the honor since 1978's Ain't Misbehavin. Memphis also took home the 09-10 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical.
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