Review: Campus Theatre Gives New Reasons to Love Memphis
I had seen Memphis The Musical once before in high school - I didn’t remember much about the musical other than I enjoyed it. Seeing the production of Memphis done at Campus Theatre by Music Theatre of Denton this past Friday, May 4, reminded me of the reasons I enjoyed seeing it the first time. Plus, this specific production gave me new reasons to fall in love the musical.
Memphis is about the beginnings of rock n’ roll in the 1950’s. It is told through the fictional love story between Huey Calhoun, a local white man who has a passion for R&B and Felicia Farrell, a talented, up and coming black singer. Their story is meant to be a sign of the times as they navigate their love in an unaccepting world.
One of the most important things in any production is getting the right cast. Music Theatre of Denton nailed it with their casting of this musical. Jonathan Mcinnis and Christian O’Neill Houston make the perfect Huey and Felicia combo. Mcinnis had a dynamic energy while playing Huey that successfully captured the audience’s attention. O’Neill Houston played Felicia so well and was so intune with the character, it was easy to forget she was only an actress. In any show involving a love story, an undeniable and believable chemistry is essential and the duo did just that.
It’s well known in the the theatre world that “there are no small parts” and “every member of the show is important.” This rings true for this production of Memphis. This musical had an ensemble that achieved a hard to achieve feat in the theatre world. MTD casted an ensemble that had actors who could each shine individually and be a team player at the same time. They all meshed well when they needed to and stood out in their own unique ways when necessary. The actors who portrayed The Beale Street Ensemble really proved that even with minimal lines any actor who is committed to the role can stand out.
The choreography in this production was something that really shined for me. It was done in a way that was capturing and helped aid in the telling of the story of Memphis. The dancing was well timed and performed in sync by every cast member. The cast danced confidently and made it seem as if they were having a great time which, as an audience member, made me invested into the characters and the story even more.
This production featured a live band, that has to be one of the best live bands that I’ve seen accompany a musical. I really loved the singing in this production as well. Three songs that became favorites of mine where She’s My Sister, Change Don’t Come Easy, and the finale song Steal Your Rock n’ Roll. Chris Portley encapsulated the character of Delray Farrell, the protective older brother of Felicia, in She’s My Sister, so well that just within that song I was able to fully understand the character of Delray all the while enjoying Portley’s voice. The emotions he put behind the words he was singing were really what made his performance so powerful. Change Don’t Come Easy was an especially fun song to watch due to Amanda Rose Fisher’s portrayal of Gladys Mama Calhoun and her playing off of the characters Bobby, Delray, and Gator. Her performance as Mama Calhoun successfully portrayed a mother going through a change of beliefs while making it enjoyable to watch. The finale of Memphis Steal Your Rock n’ Roll was my favorite song from the last time I saw Memphis and continues to remain one of my favorites. It’s an energetic and fun song that perfectly emcompasses the spirit of this musical. The song is so catchy that you’ll definitely leave the theatre either singing along and having the cast’s well done vocal performance of the song happily stuck in your head.
I highly recommend seeing this production of Memphis while it’s running at Campus Theatre. This production deserves to be seen and supported because it truly exemplifies the often underrated and ignored talent from the theatre community that resides within the Denton. The show will be running until the May 13 so get your tickets! For more information go to musictheatreofdenton.com
Header image by Stephanie Holloway.
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