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Stellar “Memphis” at Croswell Opera House (Review) August 18, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Musicals.
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And yet another rave! Thanks to Jamie Buechele-Beasecker for her guest review of Memphis, the musical at Croswell Opera House!

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This past Friday I was fortunate enough to enjoy the Croswell Opera House’s production of Memphis. This musical is loosely based on the exposure of R&B music by DJ Dewey Phillips in the tumultuous segregated south. This production is, to put it mildly, a success.

I want to emphasize that when the summer season and Memphis were announced, a few eyebrows were raised, mine included. The Croswell promised that this show would be unlike any other, and the hype surrounding this production grew. My fears about the success of this show were completely dispelled on opening night, and the Croswell has delivered on its promise.

The vocal performances by all are consistent and fit the style and energy of the show well, however, there are some performances that are outstanding.

Dan Clair’s portrayal of Huey Calhoun is terrific, both in character and in voice quality. Derrick Jordan’s Delray Farrell is powerful and intimidating. Many other strong performances were delivered by Lydia Schafer as Gladys Calhoun, Ron Baumanis as Simmons, Anthony Isom as Gator, Domonique Glover as Bobby, Charles Waters as Reverend Hobson, and an incredible cast of talented dancers, ensemble members, and character roles too numerous to expound upon.

I saved the best for last. Tatiana Owens. This young woman’s performance is impressive, flawless, and left the audience both completely satisfied and wanting more. Owens’ vocal and character performance are equally powerful, and her telling of Felecia Farrell’s story is 100% believable. The chemistry between Owens and Clair is well-developed and makes the audience root for them, which, in turn, makes the audience angry at the injustice demonstrated by the racist bigotry and violence that has and is occurring in the world.

Deb Calabrese guided this incredible cast to build show-stopping dance numbers, emotional dramatic scenes, and an overall impressive production. Dave Rains worked his usual magic with the balanced ensemble numbers and orchestra. Krage’s costumes are appropriate to the time and hold true to the historical colors and designs of the ’50s, and David Nelms sharp unit set is well-utilized by the cast. Tiff Crutchfield’s lighting design is beautiful and appropriate for the space and set design. The typical sound complications did occur during Memphis, however, this is an issue that regular Croswell patrons expect, and a few poorly timed set changes did interfere with the audiences view at times. Neither of these issues affected the overall stellar quality of this show.

There are moments during this production that are emotionally difficult to watch, and this strongly contributes to the rounded-out complexity of Memphis. Go see this show. Experience the emotional roller coaster that this outstanding cast delivers. During the final scene, I turned around in my seat. What I saw brought tears to my eyes and swelling to my heart. A full house of engaged, excited faces. Memphis is a show that I could not wait to stand up for. This show more than deserved its standing ovation, and I was happy to oblige.

MEMPHIS Rocks Adrian’s Croswell and it is more than worth the trip (Review) August 18, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Musicals.
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Because I am in this production, MEMPHIS The Musical, at Croswell Opera House is being reviewed by guest reviewer director/choreographer/producer Patricia Mazzola. Thanks Patty!

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I had the fortune of seeing the opening night performance of MEMPHIS the Musical at Adrian’s Croswell Opera House. Based loosely on real-life Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips who played black blues and R&B for people of all races to appreciate, taking enormous chances in the segregated south of the fifties. You, too, will be taken by this production.

The show has it all! The performers are so good you truly get lost in this story. Be ready to experience surprise, anger, laughs, love and genuine joy. There are excellent performances by Dan Clair as Huey Calhoun and Tatiana Owens as Felicia, but supporting roles are just as strong. Lydia Schafer plays Huey’s mother, and it is a gem of a musical comedy role expertly played. Derrick Jordan sings a remarkable Delray, Felecia’s older, protective brother. There’s a fantastic dance number from Dom Glover as Bobby (“Big Daddy”) and Anthony L. Isom sings a stirring “Say a Prayer” as Gator.

The choreography is strong and prominent, featuring a half-black half-white singing and dancing ensemble cast. This is the type of dance you rarely see on local stages and director/choreographer Debra Calabrese keeps everything flowing at an exciting pace. The audience eats it up and you can quickly see why this musical won all those Tony Awards a few years ago. It is an exciting evening of musical theatre, but one that has a strong message to convey.

The storyline draws you in and keeps you there — as it explores the birth of rock and roll and its rhythm and blues origins in Memphis’s black Beale Street clubs. Through a series of coincidences, Huey manages to secure a job at a popular radio station (Ann Arbor’s own Ron Baumanis plays the station manager as a “gruff, obscenity-spewing teddy bear” — credit to Wendy Wright for that one). When Huey falls in love with black singer Felicia, complications ensue and the relationship faces obstacles in both the white community as well as back on Beale St. Just as current as today’s racial tensions and rebellious music preferences, it’s the younger folks and teens who take to the new beat; and by the time the musical reaches its electric final number, “Steal Your Rock and Roll,” everybody within the walls of this majestic theatre are with them.

Praise to Dave Rains and his 9-piece onstage orchestra for some truly excellent musical work. Throughout the evening, the show’s driving force is the original musical score.

Several times I thought the story hit the highlight, only to be taken further. It is not your typical boy-meets-girl musical. You won’t want it to end and will find yourself dancing and singing your way to the car. You’ll be hard pressed to find any local production of this musical with these production values.

Memphis continues at the Croswell Opera House through August 23rd. croswell.org or 517-264-SHOW for tickets. Don’t miss it!

Very Highly Recommended.