'Memphis' exuberantly chronicles the rise of RB

Associated Press Modified: October 19, 2009 at 6:01 pm •  Published: October 19, 2009
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Glover is quite a revelation, too, as the ambitious Felicia, a singer who sees a chance for a recording contract as her way out of Memphis and into the big time. The actress has a commanding stage presence and can curl her voice around a song, whether it is the rockin' "Underground," which opens the show, or a cry of pain called "Colored Woman."

Director Christopher Ashley has surrounded his stars with a talented, distinctive supporting cast: J. Bernard Calloway as Felicia's protective brother; Derrick Baskin as a loyal if silent club employee; James Monroe Iglehart as a large, late-blooming singer; Cass Morgan as Huey's initially unsupportive mother; and Michael McGrath as a hard-boiled radio station owner.

"Memphis" is a big show with a large cast (more than two dozen actors) and David Gallo's multiple sets ranging from that Beale Street dive to radio and television studios. But Ashley makes it all move with surprising speed.

Even Gallo's settings swirl effortlessly, but then the musical has an innate energy, much of it supplied by Sergio Trujillo's propulsive choreography. There's a sinuous, sexy quality to the dancing that perfectly matches the music, and the dancers are among the hottest in town.

A bit of "Dreamgirls" and maybe even "Hairspray" can be found in the show's show-biz and race relations roots. But make no mistake, "Memphis" is its own musical, a potent reminder of what can happen when fine song and dance combine with a compelling story.

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