For the love of music: ‘Memphis’ returns to Thalian this week

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'Memphis: The Musical' runs this Thursday through Sunday at Thalian Hall. Courtesy image.
‘Memphis: The Musical’ runs this Thursday through Sunday at Thalian Hall. Courtesy image.

A complicated love story based loosely on real life and set to music once again takes the main stage at Thalian Hall later this week.

Cape Fear Theatre Arts’ “Memphis: The Musical,” which launched New Year’s Eve to a sold-out crowd, continues its successful run at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday.

The Tony Award-winner is a first for the local theater company’s annual holiday production. “Memphis” had a three-year stay on Broadway beginning in 2008, followed a five-year national tour.

“It’s semi-lesser known,” Justin Smith, artistic director of “Memphis,” told Beau Gunn on 98.3 FM The Penguin, which is part of the company Local Voice that owns Port City Daily. “But as we were producing shows this year, we wanted to do something new. You know, since we started this 15 years ago…there are only a few [plays] we haven’t had repeats with.”

In fact, Smith added, 2011 was the last time Cape Fear Theatre Arts, known for its local production of “Spamalot,” has put on a brand new show.

And Smith believes the group has picked a winner.

Based somewhat on Memphis disc jockey Dewey Phillips, one of the first white radio personalities to play black music in the 1950s, the musical captures the moment the play’s character, Huey Calhoun,  hears a song that changes his life, personally and professionally.

“He’s trying to find his way in life, he loves music and happens upon a black nightclub on Beale Street, walks in and falls in love with this woman’s voice and this woman’s look and says ‘I’m going to get you on the radio,’ for no reason,” Smith noted.

Trouble is, Calhoun has no job, let alone a job at a radio station. But, he works his way into one, where he breaks onto the air, plays the woman, Felicia Farrell’s, music–as well as others–at the risk of being fired.

“But all the sudden, these white kids love it,” Smith said.

The remainder of the play follows the rise and fall of Calhoun and Farrell, both in the music world and romantically, with lots of song and dance thrown in.

Smith said the large cast of 34–with seven leads–“nailed the spirit” of the musical. Jerrial Young, whose credits include Bobby Dupree in Broadway National Tours’ production of “Memphis: The Musical,” reprises his role for the local stage.

“There is some unbelievable dancing,” he said. “And wait until you hear the singing.”

In addition to this week’s slate of shows, “Memphis: The Musical” will run at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 14 through Saturday, Jan. 16, with a final show set for 2 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 17.

Tickets are $20 for Thursday shows and $25-$29 for all other performances. Click here for more information.

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