It seems like no coincidence that the leading lady of “Memphis” just so happens to share the same name as the character she plays. It’s quite clear, in fact, that Miss Felicia Boswell was born to play Felicia — a sassy, determined, powerhouse of talent, struggling to find her way in the backdrop of a 1950s Memphis.
Not only does Boswell completely nail this part and every note she’s asked to sing, but she embodies the spirit of the show — the soul of the music, the frustration of a pre-civil rights era and the passion for making dreams come true in a place where that’s less than possible.
While Boswell certainly captured the audience from the first note at Tuesday night’s premiere at the Ordway in St. Paul, she wasn’t the only star that helped propel this musical into a must-see hit.
Bryan Fenkart was delightful as the somewhat naive, mostly carefree radio disc jockey, Huey. In a world of clearly drawn lines and harsh division, Fenkart’s Huey is a breath of fresh air in a time when most are more comfortable holding their breath.
His over-the-top, and yes, at times, cheesy radio persona has an innocence to it that immediately makes you love the character and root for his dorky “white trash” underdog status.
He’s a man with big dreams and somewhat impossible goals — to make it big in Memphis, shock the airwaves with so-called “race” music and most controversial of all, he wants to marry his love Felicia, a black woman with a soulful sound and a overly protective brother.
The story of “Memphis” takes the audience on a journey through an unkind world with a never-ending battle for change. Huey leads the effort, sneaking his way onto Tennessee’s airwaves to deliver true rock ‘n’ roll and create a place where music, at least, can be colorblind.
The motivation behind all these efforts is Felicia — Huey promises to make her a star and share her gift with the people of Memphis — and beyond. A task much easier said then done, Huey assembles a group of all stars including his skeptical mother, Felicia’s less-than-thrilled brother, a mute bartender and the radio station’s janitor.
The details of this show are a true treat — the staging to bring the sounds of a radio station to life, the transitions from one scene to the next and the always moving set design that helps push the story forward.
From beginning to end, the choreography and dancing is superb. The direction of the show is very smart in that it lets the dancing speak for itself at some times and helps highlight the song lyrics and music in others.
The show packs plenty of laughs and unexpected emotion. The final performance of the first act is incredibly powerful and highly effective. I won’t ruin any of the surprise but will say the solo in “Say A Prayer” absolutely blew me away. (Tip: Have a tissue ready, just in case.)
There’s truly nothing bad I can say about “Memphis” — from the opening scene to the final curtain call, it was spectacular. I could go on and on about the individual performances, the moments that caught me off guard or the thrill of watching Tuesday night’s audience so enthralled in the story’s progression.
But instead, I’ll encourage you to see it for yourself and draw your own conclusions and favorite moments. There’s a reason it won the 2010 Tony Award for Best Musical. It’s certainly a show you don’t want to miss.
Memphis runs through March 25 at the Ordway. For tickets or more information, visit the Ordway’s website.
Bryan Fenkart On Playing Huey In ‘Memphis’