Here are a few more pictures of the Broadway show Danny Tidwell’s currently in, Memphis.
The photos (all by Joan Marcus) should give you a sense of what fabulous fun some of these musical numbers are. In the bottom photo Danny Tidwell is on the right side of the picture, in the gold pants.
So Memphis tells the story of Huey (played excellently by Chad Kimball), a poor white southern guy who falls for “black music,” along with a diva (Felicia, played well by Montego Glover) in a local black nightclub he frequents. It’s the 1950s and racial segregation is in full swing but Huey is far ahead of his time and believes, naively and without question, that white mainstream audiences will come to love the music as well as he, and that white society will accept his and Felicia’s relationship. The first he’s right about, the second he’s not — and Felicia pays the price for his insistence on making their relationship public.
The story begins with Huey’s being fired from his record store job for playing the hip-swaying, soulful music he’s so enamored of, though customers seem accepting of it. He then finagles his way into a local radio station, gets the station owners to give him a spin in the deejay booth, and once there, he locks the door and blasts away with his music. Just as the station owners break down the door and throw him out, the calls praising the music start pouring in. Though the station owners are still suspicious of the music, they’re also good capitalists and capitalism trumps racism, so Huey lands himself a new job. Huey soon introduces his audiences to Felicia, who sings live on his show; audiences adore her. Eventually the radio station becomes the most popular in the city, bringing in oodles of money, Huey becomes rich and buys his poor, practically worked-to-death mother a mansion, Felicia becomes famous, and Huey is offered a national TV show.
That’s the first act. It’s a happy, almost fantastical story where things seem to happen too easily; the characters have little struggle. The second act is still mainly upbeat but it’s not quite so syrupy sweet and the characters gain more depth. This is where I thought Kimball in particular excelled.
Felicia, Huey and the dancers and singers of Beale Street (the local nightclub where Huey met Felicia) are now in the North, in New York, where Felicia is on the verge of scoring a big record deal, and production on Huey’s TV show (which kind of resembles Soul Train or an early Dick Clark program) is beginning. Felicia is successful, Huey is not: the TV-show producers are not quite so open to change as the those of the radio show and they insist he replace all the black dancers and singers with white ones. The brave soul he’s always been, Huey tells the TV producers where to go.
“When did I become more black than you,” Huey cries to Felicia as she tries to get him to reconsider. This scene, which takes place in Felicia’s dressing room as she is about to go onstage for an important career-making performance, could have been the most poignant in the play, but Glover is way too sweet. She responds with something along the lines of, “I’ve had to struggle all my life.” But she’s far too nice; she wants way too much to please him after he’s said such a horrendous thing to her. She should have really smacked him, let him have it, driven home to him just what racial privilege means.
Huey returns to Memphis and resumes his local fame at the radio station, and Felicia goes on to become a national sensation. At the end they have a bittersweet reunion in which Kimball practically broke my heart. I haven’t seen this actor in much, but he gave what’s mainly a cute, feel-good story with fun dance numbers as much depth as it would allow. I’ll definitely look forward to seeing him more.
The dancing and singing is tremendous. Danny completely blew me away in every number he was in. All of the dancers are very good, but, I mean, he is just Danny Tidwell 🙂 He’d do a splits jump and, oh good lord… I really really really want to see him front and center. That’s where he so deserves to be.
Another one who blew my friend and I away was James Monroe Iglehart (center in bottom pic above). He plays well a very lovable character, and, okay, especially for someone who doesn’t exactly have the traditional “ballet physique”, damn can that man dance!
I didn’t go to the stage door to meet the cast members, but here is a link reader Jeanette sent me of her meeting the great one.