TABARD THEATRE OPENS THEIR 16TH SEASON WITH ‘MEMPHIS’ THE BEAT BEGINS WITH HUEY CALHOUN
The R&B sounds of MEMPHIS the musical is now on stage for one final weekend at San Jose’s San Pedro Square Stage through Oct 16th. The Tabard Theatre company opens season 16 with this dynamic musical that was debuted locally. MEMPHIS is the musical that Palo Alto’s TheatreWorks helped to develop and it made its world premiere in 2004. In 2010 it won four Tony Awards including Best Musical, beating out the other home grown production that year “American Idiot”. MEMPHIS includes a book by Joe DiPietro and music by David Bryan. This San Jose production marks the first Bay Area regional production of this show and director Jay Manley has assembled a talented cast of eighteen actors to give this 50’s look a brilliant rhythm and blues spirit.
“Although it is set in the 1950s, this musical has always been timely, yet never more so. It is exciting, engaging, thought-provoking, and truly heart-felt” says Artistic Director Cathy Spielberger CassettaIt “I am excited that Tabard is the first local company to bring this creative and energetic show to South Bay audiences following its fantastic run on Broadway" she said.
MEMPHIS is based loosely on the life of Memphis DJ Dewey Philips, one of the first white disc jockeys who took a risk to spin African American music for a white audience in the 50s. In the musical, the main protagonist Huey is played by the dazzling Brendan Quirk who is a frenzied, exuberant individual who probably was a great pitch man. He talked his way into becoming a DJ at an all white music radio station where Perry Como and Patti Page are the stars. Huey mixes the music of white America with tracks of rhythm and blues melodies, becoming an instant success with the teenagers but the disapproval of their parents. Quirk sings “The Music of My Soul” to gain the attention of this new talented black singer named Felicia played by the ravishing Janelle LaSalle. Of course he falls for her and things get very dicey in segregated Memphis. Huey is taken down by a gang of racist thugs, which leads to his downfall and dependency on alcohol and pain pills. But his spirit never failed him.
LaSalle and Qurik make the perfect team in “Love Will Stand When all Else Fails” a profound song that tells their intricate story. At this time of renewed racial conflict, Memphis is a remarkably relevant show. With a white deejay on a passionate quest to bring black rock and roll music to the attention of white America. As he becomes romantically involved with Felicia Farrell, Huey's conservative mother Gladys played by the undaunting Ruth E Stein and Felicia's solicitous brother Delray (The T) both over react. Huey's zeal in taking on racism in the music industry, combined with his blindness to his own white privilege, threatens Felicia's future and her safety.
David Bryan's music brims with energy. Including “Scratch my Itch” song by the rocking company. Director Manley and his talented cast bring Memphis to life on the compact San Pedro square stage. Making this production an intimate evening of Rock and Roll. Music Director Catherine Snider and her stunning six piece on stage band include Doug Forsyth, Ian Early, Tim Roberts, Tom Wieske and Bruce Campbell. Bryant's Tony-winning score is brought to life by this talented team and is highlighted in gospel show stopper “Make Me Stronger”
All of the leads are first rate actor-singers with excellent stage presence. Quirk convincingly makes the transformation from an awkward guy looking for a new career to a charismatic DJ & TV host which revolutionized the new soul of mainstream music. "The T" as Delray and Antone Jackson as Bobby contribute outstanding vocals, especially in the spirited ”Everybody Wants To Be Black” Mike Hugill as the station manager Mr. Simmons plays a dual-faced role at times villain and sometimes friend, but always about making money. In his song “That’s Not Possible” Hugill mixes with the cast well, and it is cleverly choreographed by Dottie Lester White.
A stand out performances include the amazing tenor voice of Tarif Pappu, as the keen Gator, who is mute during the first act. As the scene intensifies, Gator suddenly found his voice to sing the Act 1 finale “Say a Prayer” which brings down the house. Pappu showed off his pitch perfect voice and was commanding in that number.
Another highlight of this talented cast is Ruth Stein as momma Gladys Calhoun and her show stopper “Change Don’t Come Easy” with Pappu, The T, and Jackson. Joella Wolnic who is the dance captain was very effective in her ensemble role. She truly grabbed your attention with her dainty and zestful portrayal of a white teenager. Edward Clark, Sam Daisher, Chris Denson, Yuliya Eydelant, Marcus Gaye, Zoe Godfrey, Lance Lynne Kieu, Steven Guire Knight, Barbara Heninger, and Eddie Gilbert do fine work in their supporting roles. It is the singing and dancing ensemble that provides some of the show’s best moments. In addition to their strong vocals in “Radio” the dancers bring boundless energy to Lester-Whites be-bop beat driven choreography.
The show had a really strong cast, but the night belonged to Janelle LaSalle who was able to transcend the role of Felicia and bring the audience through a roller coaster journey filled with emotions and depth of character. LaSalle was successful in transforming herself to the role - her song “Someday” offered the fun and bubbly side of Felicia while her big Act 1 solo “Colored Woman” showed her fierce power and passion. Her voice was flawless and her acting on point (never dropping her character in the 2 and a half hour show). It was a master class in theatre performance and she truly shined like a star.
The black rock 'n' roll club where Huey meets Felicia springs to life under the clever mood lighting of designer Nick Nichols. Director Jay Manley keeps set design simple since the San Pedro stage has the look to set the mood of a Memphis Radio station. Melissa Sanchez’s stylish costumes enhance the visual appeal of the production. She kept Hueys look funky and a mess while making Felicia look elegant and sophisticated. Ruth E Stein, besides being a humours force in the cast, created all the props that includes many classic mic stands and radio bits to create the studio look for the show. Dialect Coach Kimily Conkle kept the cast authentic in the sound of the era however Jon DiLoreto’s sound design was limited, which made it hard to feel that passion that was missing at times from some of the ensemble numbers.
The real record spinner Dewey Phillips (Mr Calhoun) is just a footnote in the phenomenal history of rock 'n' roll, in the end he died a forgotten man. But he is credited for making that historic crossover to R&B to mainstream audiences. He set the tone for Dick Clark and others. In the show’s big 11 o’clock number "Memphis Lives in Me," Huey reflects on his past and Quirk hits a home-run with his emphatic performance. Huey and Company close with the very moving and rousing “Steal Your Rock n Roll’ that brings the house to their feet and finally lets you be part of the heart and soul of this show.
This was my first visit to the Tabard Theatre Company and it is a small but mighty team of creative people who are celebrating their 16th season and their home in San Pedro Square is a first rate spot for this black box stage. The San Pedro is a row of restaurants and clubs so a visit to this heart of silicon Valley makes the perfect evening out. Parking is easy and validated, and besides this cute stage company all the rest of area is resturants. I hope to return to cover the remaining of their 16th year. In the meantime get tickets to this final weekend of MEMPHIS, limited seats remain. This production is a crowd pleaser, and as Huey says “Huckadoo” don’t miss this musical --
Tabard Threater Company Presents
Book and Lyrics by Joe DiPietro Music and Lyrics by David Bryan Based on a concept by George W.George
Directed by Jay Manley, Music Director Catherine Snider
Choreographer Dottie Lester-White
Only Through Oct 16, 2016
Theatre on San Pedro Square
29 N. San Pedro Street • Downtown San Jose
Running Time 2 hours 30 min
PHOTO CREDIT: Edmond Kwong/ImageWurx
THE CAST OF MEMPHIS
Theatre on San Pedro Square is managed by The Tabard Theatre Company and is downtown San Jose’s best kept secret. The intimate venue hosts numerous Tabard Events throughout the year in addition to Tabard’s regular season of theatrical productions, including its exciting live music series, TOSPS TUESDAYS (pronounced Tops Tuesdays), most Tuesday nights at 7pm, featuring local musicians of every genre, full bar service, and FREE admission.
The remainder of Tabard’s 2016-2017 Season features: EDITH STEIN, Oct. 28-Nov. 20; A DICKENS OF A CHRISTMAS MASHUP, Dec. 2-16; 10 in 10: 2017, Jan. 20-Feb. 5, 2017; THE CEMETERY CLUB, Feb. 17-Mar. 12; and THE MUSICAL OF MUSICALS (The Musical!), April 7-30.