Review: Memphis (Porchlight Music Theatre)

| April 26, 2018

Aeriel Williams stars as Felicia Farrell in Memphis, Porchlight Music Theatre            



By Joe DiPietro (book & lyrics), 
   and David Bryan (music & lyrics)
Ruth Page Arts Center, 1016 N. Dearborn (map)
thru June 10  |  tix: $33-$60  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets    

     Now extended thru June 10


Inspiring, socially-conscious ‘Memphis’ not to be missed


Aeriel Williams, Mallory Maedke, Shantel Cribbs, Nicole Lambert, Aalon Smith, Ariel M. Dorsey, Gilbert Domally

Porchlight Music Theatre presents

Review by Lauren Whalen

Memphis is inspired by the life of Dewey Phillips, the first radio DJ to play Elvis Presley’s music and interview the country boy who would become a legend. As the dramaturgy note for Porchlight’s snazzy yet socially aware production states, rock ‘n’ roll music itself was James Earl Jones II stars as Bobby in Memphis, Porchlight Music Theatrenothing new, but newly marketed to a broader, whiter audience. In his wildly popular radio show that drew a hundred thousand listeners, Phillips played the music that would define a generation, and his enthusiasm and engagement prompted a nationwide craze for tunes with previously limited listeners, due to the Jim Crow laws, prejudices and strict moral codes of the 1950s. While Memphis is not a direct biography of Phillips, his spirit lives on in the Tony Award-winner, and its deft and dazzling Porchlight production.

In Memphis, Phillips lives on in Huey Calhoun (Liam Quealy), a poor and uneducated white kid who can’t hold a job and still lives with his mother. However, Huey’s love of rhythm and blues, or what was known in 1951 as “race music” (and that’s the *nice* version of the phrase), leads him to Beale Street, where at the time most white people were too racist or afraid to go. There, Huey meets Delray Jones (Lorenzo Rush, Jr.), who runs a small but popular club, and Delray’s beautiful younger sister Felicia (Aerial Williams), whose voice is the stuff of dreams. When Huey’s temp stint at a radio station becomes a popular show, he’s determined to make Felicia a star – and make her his wife. Sadly, Huey and Felicia’s relationship is illegal in Memphis. Will they become stars in their own right?

Aeriel Williams stars as Felicia Farrell in Memphis, Porchlight Music Theatre Liam Quealy stars as Huey Calhoun in Memphis at Porchlight Music TheatreGilbert Domally, James Earl Jones II, Nancy Wagner and Lorenzo Rush, Jr. star in Memphis, PorchlightLiam Quealy and Aeriel Williams star as Huey Calhoun and Felicia Farrell in Memphis Liam Quealy stars as Huey Calhoun in Memphis, Porchlight Music TheatreAeriel Williams stars as Felicia Farrell in Memphis, Porchlight Music Theatre at Ruth Page Arts Center

Memphis won four Tony Awards in 2010, including Best Musical, and it’s easy to see why. Huey is the hero of the story, but Felicia is the true star – and she doesn’t let Huey get away with mediocre white man behavior. Ever. Joe DiPietro’s book is smart and allows the characters to grow and change, and David Bryan’s score is gorgeous, catchy and memorable. The musical is an ideal season closer for Porchlight, a company renowned for strong productions that leave their audiences both singing and thinking. Director Daryl Brooks makes each and every moment compelling, from Huey and Felicia’s initial triumphs to their final losses and subsequent redemptions. Memphis straddles the line between Hollywood-polished and sadly realistic (especially by musical theater standards), and Brooks is a master at both. Jermaine Hill’s music direction is perfectly on point, as is Christopher Carter’s choreography, which is worthy of all the Jeff Awards it can earn.

Though Memphis has ample opportunities for ensemble members to shine (and they do), the show belongs to Huey, Felicia, their dreams and their star-crossed love. Quealy, a stunning Claude in last year’s Hair at Mercury Theater, is simply incredible; his enthusiasm contagious, his energy unflagging. And Williams displays star quality from beginning to end. In a role that’s both vocally and dramatically demanding, she never fails to hit the right notes. Memphis is both rockin’ and thought-provoking, and Porchlight’s interpretation is, in a word, unmissable.

Rating: ★★★★

Memphis continues through May 20th  June 10th at Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn (map), with performances Thursdays 7:30pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 4pm & 8pm, Sundays 2pm or 6pm.  Tickets are $33-$60, available by phone (773-777-9884) or online at their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at time: 2 hours 30 minutes, includes intermission)

Aeriel Williams stars as Felicia Farrell in Memphis at Porchlight Music Theatre

Photos by Michael Courier




Ryan Dooley (White DJ, Mr. Collins, White Father, Gordon Grant), Jared David Michael Grant (Black DJ, Reverend Hobson), Lorenzo Rush Jr. (Delray Jones), Aerial Williams (Felicia Farrell), Liam Quealy (Huey Calhoun), Gilbert Domally (Gator), Casiena Raether (Clara, White Mother), Koray Tarhan (Perry Como, Frank Dryer), Stephen “Blu” Allen (Wailin’ Joe), James Earl Jones II (Bobby), Jacob Voigt (Mr. Simmons), Isaiah Silvia-Chandley (Buck Wiley, Martin Holton), Nancy Wagner (Gladys Calhoun), Shantel Cribbs (Ethel)

Ensemble: Stephen “Blu” Allen, Shantel Cribbs, Ryan Dooley, Ariel M. Dorsey, Jared David Michael Grant, Graham Hawley, Kayla Kennedy, Nicole Lambert, Bernell Lassai III, Ivory Leonard IV, Mallory Maedke, Marvin Malone II, John Marshall Jr., Casiena Raether, Isaiah Silvia-Chandley, Aalon Smith, Koray Tarhan


Jermaine Hill (conductor, piano), Paul Basa (trumpet), Myron Cherry (drums, percussion), Steve Manns (bass), Anthony Rodriguez (clarinet, flute, sax), Cesar Romero (electric guitar, acoustic guitar)

behind the scenes

Daryl Brooks (director), Jermaine Hill (music director), Christopher Carter (choreography, assistant director), Reneisha Jenkins (assistant choreographer), Jacqueline Penrod and Richard Penrod (scenic design), Bill Morey (Costume Design), Denise Karczewski (lighting design), Robert Hornbostel (sound design), Andrew Ashley Hatcher (properties design, asst. stage manager), Casiena Raether (fight choreographer), Johnnie Schleyer (technical director), Matthew McMullen (production stage management), Aaron Shapiro (production management), Matthew McMullen (stage manager), Mary Zanger, Matt Nadler, Joaquin Gomez (asst. stage managers), Michael Weber (artistic director), Jeannie Lukow (executive director), Michael Courier (photos)

James Earl Jones II and Jacob Voigt star as Bobby and Mr. Simmons in Memphis, Porchlight


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Category: 2018 Reviews, Lauren Emily Whalen, Musical, Porchlight Music Theatre, Ruth Page Theater, Video, YouTube

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