The Black & White of Memphis
The Dresser will make this short but she wants to go on the record to say how much she enjoyed Memphis, the 2010 Tony Award-winning musical that is currently working on a four city tour: Washington, DC (June 12-July 1), Kansas City, MO (July 10-July 15), Las Vegas, NV (July 17-22), and San Diego, CA (July 24-29). She attended the opening night performance (June 12, 2012) at DC's Kennedy Center.
While she doesn't think David Bryan's music has the catchy tunes of say, Meredith Wilson's The Music Man, which is currently playing at DC's Arena Stage, the singing performances of Felicia Boswell as the black nightclub singer Felicia and Julie Johnson as Huey's Mama were standouts. Johnson's powerhouse rendition of "Change Don't Come Easy" caused this critic who rarely stands at the end of a show to rise energetically when this singer with a huge voice made her bow.
Bryan Fenkart as Huey puts on his best performance as an actor. The character Huey is a very funky white country bumpkin who makes folks turn up their radios. He is hilarious but also rather stupid about how the world really behaves. The character Huey is a strange counterpoint to Felicia, a classy black woman with tremendous talent and little opportunity to succeed in a backwater place like Memphis in the 1950s where white and black mixing is forbidden. Needless to say he falls in love with her but why she reciprocates is hard to fathom. In the end, she succeeds and moves to New York while he stays tied to the apron strings of Memphis.
What the Dresser loved best was the dancing. Such numbers as "Everybody Wants to Be Black on a Saturday Night" put the lyrics and beat into visceral context for anyone who is a fan of social dancing. Most of Sergio Trujillo's choreography mixes jitterbug and Lindy Hop with hip-hop, break dancing, and odd gestures similar to what Twyla Tharp does with her choreography.
The Dresser also finds Memphis an interesting story to contemplate as the literary community in the Nation's Capital prepares to welcome Natasha Trethewey, our 19th Poet Laureate and the youngest person to hold this office. Trethewey's ghazal outlines the kinds of problems black and white couples from the south experienced well beyond the 1950s.
In 1965 my parents broke two laws of Mississippi;
they went to Ohio to marry, returned to Mississippi.
They crossed the river into Cincinnati, a city whose name
begins with a sound like sin, the sound of wrong - mis in Mississippi.
A year later they moved to Canada, followed a route the same
as slaves, the train slicing the white glaze of winter, leaving Mississippi.
Faulkner's Joe Christmas was born in winter, like Jesus, given his name
for the day he was left at the orphanage, his race unknown in Mississippi.
My father was reading War and Peace when he gave me my name.
I was born near Easter, 1966, in Mississippi.
When I turned 33 my father said, It's your Jesus year - you're the same
age he was when he died. It was spring, the hills green in Mississippi.
I know more than Joe Christmas did. Natasha is a Russian name -
though I'm not; it means Christmas child, even in Mississippi.
by Natasha Trethewey
from Native Guard
Copyright © 2006 Natasha Trethewey