Best Bet: Buell Theatre's "Memphis"

October 2012

If you're looking for a classic Broadway experience in downtown Denver, Memphis has it all: A multiple Tony-winning musical with catchy tunes, belt-it-out vocals, complex choreography, and impeccable costume design.

The two-and-a-half hour production explores the history-making transition from R&B to rock ‘n roll, and dives into some of that period’s explosive social issues via an old-fashioned love story. Huey Calhoun (Brian Fenkhart), is an unusual white kid who finds his way to a black nightclub, and quickly falls in love with both the music and the club’s vocal sensation, Felicia Farrell (Felicia Boswell). The two unite over their struggle to land Felicia and other black artists “in the center of your radio dial,” while defiantly nurturing their own romance. 

The show’s highlight is Boswell, whose range and depth makes the audience anticipate her next song. Fenkhart’s Calhoun, meanwhile, strives to keep pace with Boswell’s remarkable power, and he mostly succeeds. The two actors complement each other surprisingly well despite the different character of their voices. The key is Calhoun’s personality. He’s not just a fast-talking hillbilly DJ trying to push the limits of music and race; he’s also disarmingly sensitive, and Fenkhart slides seamlessly between the two halves of this dichotomous character.

The cookie-cutter plot doesn't dazzle, but the first-rate musicality of Memphis should be enough to keep you daydreaming about it for weeks. I’d see it again just to listen to Felicia Boswell.

Memphis is playing now at the Buell Theatre through October 21 (Tue.-Sun. 7:30 p.m.; Sat.-Sun. at 2 p.m.). Get your tickets ($25-$95) at Denvercenter.org or by calling 303-893-4100.

—Image courtesy of Denver Center for the Performing Arts