StageArt’s Aussie Premiere of Memphis
Chapel Off Chapel, Melbourne, October 7
Review by Sam Webb
Quite simply, this feel-good show is a must-see!
Brought to the professional Australian stage for the first time at Chapel off Chapel by StageArt, and directed by Dean Drieberg in his directional debut, this heartfelt musical took me on a journey back in time to the 1950s to Memphis, in southern Tennessee, where black and white communities were legally segregated and interracial marriage both illegal and taboo. The story is loosely based on a real life DJ of the time, Dewey Phillips, who was one of the first radio DJs to play ‘black’ music.
I was impressed immediately by the quality of performance throughout the cast. Vocally powerful and well choreographed by Kirra Sibel, the emotion and energy had me engrossed from the opening number. This musical is full of high energy soulful music that will have you foot tapping from the beginning to end. There is also plenty of humour which breaks up the emotional moments and helps to tell the story of two people who simply love each other yet are told by society they can’t be together.
The leads, Huey Calhoun and Felicia Farrell, performed by James Elmer and Elandrah Eramiha-Feo, both transformed themselves into genuine 1950s Memphis characters. The humorous Huey, whose love of black music, and the sassy Felicia, fighting for a place in the world, delivered just the right amount of humour and emotion. Their ability to connect with the audience to deliver beautiful characterisation was impressive and eagerly received.
The show stealer for me though was Mandi Lodge, performing Huey’s mother, Gladys Calhoun. What a vocal performance she has! – particularly in the second act.
The supporting ensemble also delivered a wonderfully memorable gospel scene that elicited goos flesh and smiles from everyone; A testament to the depth of talent in this production.
Perhaps no better review can be the fact that this performance of Memphis closed with the audience on their feet dancing and to a well deserved standing ovation. I highly recommend you get along to see this show while it lasts.
Read our interview with the choreographer of Memphis, Kirra Sibel here.
Read our previous article on the cast and creative of Memphis here.