Somehow everytime I visit New York City it ends up being in the dead of winter. I hear the temperature occasionally creeps above freezing there, maybe sometime between March and October, but I don’t recall ever seeing it myself.
Anyway, last weekend I boarded a plane about the size of a compact car, along with my Mom and Aunt and flew to NYC. (Okay, it was a actually a typical puddle jumper for a flight that long, but keep in mind I’m used to flying on 777s). We were visiting my brother, who’s a cast member in the Broadway show Memphis– you can see him second from the right in the Memphis poster below. (Click on it for a bigger version.)
Naturally, the main attraction was to go see my brother on Broadway, so we ended up seeing the show twice. The story takes place in the city of Memphis (duh), in the 1950s. The main characters are a white radio DJ named Huey Calhoun, and a black singer named Felicia Farrell. Huey’s goal is to get her on the mainstream radio (not an easy task in the South in the fifties), so needless to say much of the show is about the racism that was so prevalent back then. But it’s also a love story, and maybe even a cautionary tale about the dangers of fame and pride.
I was very impressed with it– and I don’t just say that because of the family connection. I went in expecting a fairly typical musical with a bunch of songs done all 50’s style (which I’ve never been particularly fond of, to be honest). But I was pleasantly surprised– the musical numbers were excellent (I’ve pretty much had the soundtrack playing on repeat since getting home), the actors were incredible (all of them, not just my brother) and the writing was really good too.
Of course, I always analyze everything from a writer’s perspective… I can’t help it. I look at the characters, setting, and plot, even in a work where the narrative is secondary– like a musical, or a very visually-oriented movie (I’ve been meaning to write a post on the movie Avatar). In the case of Memphis, all three were very strong, particularly the characters, who were heroic, brave, and also clearly flawed, even as you rooted for them. The plot had enough twists to keep me interested, and it ended in a way that surprised me, which is always good.
Interestingly, there’s a kernel of truth to the story– aside from the whole setting, which is obviously based on the way things were, the writers probably had a man named Dewey Phillips in the back of their mind as they were creating Huey Calhoun. Among other things, he was the first radio DJ to broadcast Elvis Presley, and he had to prove Elvis was white to his radio audience by asking which high school he went to. (In the musical, a bigshot radio boss told Huey to prove his race on the radio in the same way.) There are other parallels to explore, but I won’t go into too much depth… don’t want to give spoilers.
If you find yourself in NYC anytime soon, go see Memphis. Or if you can’t, be sure to go see the show when it eventually starts touring, which it definitely will.