March 31, 2016
Claudia D. Wheeler
The talent is undeniable, the music is catchy and inspirational, and the energy in the theater is palpable—for anyone who is lucky enough to see this amazing production of Memphis, the Musical, at The John W. Engeman Theater in Northport. Produced by Richard T. Dolce, the Engeman’s Producing Artistic Director, Memphis runs from now through May 8, 2016. On opening night, the cast received a standing ovation from the entire house.
The musical features a Tony-winning book by Joe DiPietro (I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change) and a Tony-winning score with music by Bon Jovi founding member David Bryan. It is loosely based on Memphis, Tennessee, disc jockey Dewey Phillips, one of the first white DJs to play black music in the 1950s. Memphis played on Broadway from 2009 through 2012. It won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
The radio DJ in Memphis, the Musical is Huey Calhoun, played brilliantly by Carson Higgins, who has enormous talent and stage presence. Higgins has played this role before at the Ivoryton Playhouse in Connecticut. His credits also include the National Tour of Green Day’s American Idiot, and he was featured in season 10 of Television’s American Idol and when you hear him sing, you will understand why. There are too many stand-out songs in Memphis sung by Higgins to list them all here.
The plot is familiar: Calhoun falls in love with the dance club singer Felicia Farrell, played by Breanna Bartley, and vows to make her famous. The relationship is full of the trials of an interracial relationship in the 1950s. Farrell is ready for her big break, but has more than her fair share of obstacles as a black singer. Calhoun is instrumental in helping her. Bartley’s vocals have an intensity that is riveting, and we are rooting for her to succeed despite the odds. Bartley’s credits include New York Theater: The Radio City Christmas Spectacular; Regional Theater: Dreamgirls (Michelle); Memphis (Felicia); Annie (Grace), and In the Heights.
The brilliance of Antoinette DiPietropolo’s choreography is evident throughout Engeman’s Memphis, with masterful dance performances in opening number “Underground,” as well as “The Music of My Soul,” “Everybody Wants to be Black on a Saturday Night,” “Make Me Stronger, “Stand Up,” “Memphis Lives in Me,” and “Steal Your Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
DiPietropolo returns to the Engeman Theater as choreographer after notable work in Miracle on 34th Street, The Producers, A Christmas Story, Evita!, The Music Man, South Pacific, Hairspray, I Love You You’re Perfect Now Change and Nunsense. Her Off- Broadway credits: With Glee, and Regional: Annie, Jesus Christ Superstar, Chicago, Ragtime; National Tour: How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Associate Director/Choreographer for The Big Apple Circus.
Memphis’ musical direction is by James Olmstead, who also directed the following Engeman Theater productions: West Side Story, The Producers, A Chorus Line, and Evita. Broadway: Radio City’s New York Spring Spectacular (Keyboardist), On Your Feet! (Copyist). Off-Broadway Music Director: 54 Below/Feinstein’s Broadway Swinger, Birdland’s BAA 10th Anniversary Concert, Laurie Beechman’s Perfectly Complicated. Off-Broadway Synth Programmer: Fun Home. Composer: Mambo Italiano, Gary Goldfarb: Master Escapist.
The creative team also includes Igor Goldin as Director. In addition to his fine work on Memphis, Goldin has directed the following productions at the Engeman: West Side Story, The Producers, Evita, The Music Man, Twelve Angry Men and South Pacific. Other credits include the following Off-Broadway productions: YANK!, With Glee, A Ritual of Faith, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Crossing Swords; and Regional Theater: Molly Sweeney, Learning How to Drown; An Irish Musical, Crossing Swords and Tick, Tick…BOOM!).
This production has numerous other performances of note by Kathryn Markey who excels as Huey’s mom Gladys, Jarred Bedgood as Gator who impresses with a soulful and moving “Say a Prayer,” and C.Mingo Long as Felicia’s protective brother Delray with his incredible, prominent vocals, especially in “She’s My Sister,” as well as a well-cast ensemble of talented dancers and singers.
The cast also includes David McDonald as Mr. Simmons, and Arthur L. Ross as Bobby, as well as Tony Chiofalo, Jessica Crilley, Marissa Girgus, Tatiana Green, Chavon Hampton, Jenny L. Harvey, Brandon Heyward, Michal Kolaczkoskiz, Katie Lombardo, Suzanne Mason, Ivory Mckay, Chris Medlin, Brandon Riddle, and Alec Varcas.
The performance schedule for Memphis is: Thursdays at 8:00pm, Fridays at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 3:00pm and 8:00pm, and Sundays at 2:00. Some Wednesday and Sunday evenings are available. Tickets are $74 on Saturday evenings, $69 all other performances, and may be purchased by calling (631) 261-2900, going online at EngemanTheater.com, or by visiting the Engeman Theater Box Office at 250 Main Street, Northport.