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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Fatima Washington, left, as nightclub star Felicia Farrell, sings to a crowd gathered at Delray’s nightclub in Civic Theatre’s production of “Memphis,” a musical set in 1950s Tennessee.

  • Jake Wilhelm, playing Huey Calhoun, and Washington sing “Ain’t Nothing But a Kiss,” one of the musical’s 20 songs.

Thursday, February 16, 2017 10:01 pm

Memphis Civic Theatre

It’s the early 1950s in segregated Tennessee, and a white disc jockey, Huey Calhoun, is in love with the music of the black community highlighted by Delray’s nightclub and its star, Felicia. Huey thinks he has found the music of his soul, but trying times are ahead.

Welcome to the musical "Memphis," which Civic Theatre opens today.

Director Leslie Beauchamp says she was offered a choice of productions in Civic Theatre’s season and jumped at the chance to helm "Memphis."

"Oh my gosh, I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass me by," she says before explaining why the musical, which confronts racial prejudices, is an important piece of art.

"It asks us to think. Good art should ask you to think," Beauchamp says. "I like that this was asking people to consider things that maybe weren’t all, you know, daisies and sunshine. ... It makes us examine parts of human behavior that aren’t necessarily positive things. And we all have that, every single one of us, regardless."

The cast of "Memphis" includes Jake Wilhelm as Huey, Fatima Washington as Felicia and Albert Brownlee as Felicia’s brother and nightclub owner Delray. With a large cast, 20 songs, multiple locations that need to shift quickly onstage and the need to create ’50s-era props, the musical has posed challenges.

"It’s a big show," Beauchamp says. "Everybody sings, everybody dances. We’ve got double Dutch jump roping. There’s a lot in there!"

The director is quick to praise not just the cast but Civic Theatre’s production staff and crew.

"Sometimes at rehearsal, I will sit there and just think, ‘How did I get so lucky?’ " she says with a laugh.

– Corey McMaken, The Journal Gazette