Broadway's 'Memphis' Heats Up Clowes Hall

Strong voices prop up this musical based in the Tennessee city’s underground club scene in the 1950s, making it easy to see how it won the Tony Award for Best New Musical in 2010.

Say “Bye, Felicia” to any lingering moodiness from winter and let the joy of Memphis fill up your soul.

The national tour of the Tony Award–winning musical grooved into town Tuesday night at Clowes Memorial Hall and was greeted with a standing ovation. The talented cast took the audience on a journey through the racially charged 1950s in the American South—more specifically, into the path of star-crossed lovers on Memphis’s Beale Street, where the scene is laid.

Huey, the lovable redneck portrayed by Joey Elrose, is impossible not to love, with his mix of childhood exuberance and James Dean rebellion. What he lacked in natural blue-eyed soul, he compensated for with charisma and showmanship. From his first entrance and solo, “The Music of My Soul,” the audience fell in love with his eagerness to win over Felicia (Jasmin Richardson) and, in a way, everyone else in the room.

The surefire standout of the night was Richardson, just as impressive in her quiet moments on stage as when she let that glorious voice soar. In Act I, she brought the house down with the rousing “Colored Woman,” a true testament to Richardson’s vocal and emotive abilities. Then in Act II, her version of “Love Will Stand When All Else Falls” felt akin to a gospel-infused track Aretha might have released in her career’s early days. Richardson, a Houston native, proved that there just may be something in the water down in the South.

Among the featured players, Jerrial T. Young (Bobby), battled some sound issues halfway through the first act with great aplomb. When he came back in the second, sound squarely in check, he sent the crowd into a frenzy on “Big Love” with his vocal chops and some impressive footwork to boot.

The most compelling male voice came packed into the diminutive but powerful Avionce Hoyles (Gator). When he sang his “Prayer” to close out the first act, he raised more than a few hairs on the backs of necks in the audience. (As the lights went up, a few attendees could be seen batting tears away from their eyes.) The sole complaint, such as it is, about Hoyles is that, in this role, we didn’t receive nearly enough opportunity to hear him sing. (Selfish, I know.)

Rounding out the featured players was RaMond Thomas (Delray)—another nearly squandered, booming vocal talent—and the pitch-perfect comedienne Pat Sibley (Huey’s Mama). Filling this production with various roles, the extremely talented ensemble rose to each equally high-caliber performance, replete with thrilling choreography and acrobatics, throughout the entire show.

Coupled with Young’s sound issues in the first act, the band (seated onstage) seemed to overpower the soloists at times. This problem was quickly corrected in the second act, surely a result of opening-night kinks. Even so, for a show that is set in the South, the majority of the cast members could have been more consistent with their deep Southern drawl from start to finish.

It is easy to see why this 2010 musical won four Tonys including Best Musical. Do yourself a favor and get lost in the sheer happiness and shimmering voices of Memphis before it leaves town.

Memphis. Now through April 6. Showtimes: April 2–3, 7:30 p.m.; April 4, 8 p.m.; April 5, 2 and 8 p.m.; and April 6, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Clowes Memorial Hall, 4602 Sunset Ave. Tickets $28–$82.