Sometimes you love a piece of theater in spite of itself.
“Memphis” is like that.
The road show of the Tony-winning musical rocked ‘n’ rolled into the Tucson Music Hall Tuesday for an eight-show run. This was clear: It is predictable, thin, clichéd. It has a tired formula — the 1950s, rhythm and blues, and a white guy who makes it possible for the black guy ( in this case woman ) to make soul-stirring music heard. In those days, prejudices flew in the South, and singers like Pat Boone would rerecord songs that a black artist had made, and suddenly radio stations found merit in them.
What we have here, however, is a not-very-good play done so well that its flaws become minor.
The dancing by choreographer Sergio Trujillo was exuberant and inventive, and this cast was bound and determine to make the audience squeal with delight. And it did.
The music — a blend of blues, gospel and rock — doesn’t grab you. But the performers had voices that soared and a deep commitment to their characters and the vocals. So while you may not leave humming the tunes, it was easy to become seduced by them.
Leading the cast was Bryan Fenkart as the Memphis DJ who falls in love with the rhythm and blues he discovers in a black club. He also falls in love with the singer there, Felicia. Memphis, the ‘50s. It can’t end well for them.
Fenkart may have overplayed the yokel aspect of his character, but he did it with such deep roots and talent that it made no difference.
Felicia was played by Lindsay Roberts, who stepped into the role for Felicia Boswell on Tuesday (Boswell is slated to return to the role). It can’t be easy for an understudy to take over on an opening night, but it was clear that Roberts knew what she was doing. And can sing very, very well.
Other cast standouts include Rhett George as Gator, a man who hadn’t spoken since he witnessed his father’s lynching — naturally, he starts to let loose when the music overcomes him; Julie Johnson as Rory’s mother, who objects to his love of Felicia, but comes around; Will Mann as an energetic Bobby, and Horace V. Rogers as Delray, Felicia’s over-protective brother.
“Memphis” isn’t great theater. But it sure is great fun.
See more theater news and reviews in Thursday's Caliente.
• What: The Broadway road show of the musical “Memphis.”
• Presented by: Broadway in Tucson:
• By: David Bryan and Joe DiPietro.
• When: 7:30 p.m. today; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. , Saturday and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday.
• Where: Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave.
• Cost: $29-$69 by clicking here.
• Reservations/information: Here or at 1-800-745-3000. Purchase your tickets in person at the TCC box office, 260 S. Church Ave., to avoid the Ticketmaster handling fee.
• Running time: 2 1/2 hours, including one intermission.