‘Memphis’ Dazzles With Message Of Tolerance

By Janee Law

jlaw@longislandergroup.com

The ensemble of the John Engeman Theater’s production of “Memphis” delivers an energetic and emotional performance telling a story about social structure based on race in Tennessee during the 1950s.

The ensemble of the John Engeman Theater’s production of “Memphis” delivers an energetic and emotional performance telling a story about social structure based on race in Tennessee during the 1950s.

The stage at John W. Engeman Theater was lit up April 7 as talented actors, singers and dancers portrayed “Memphis,” a musical based on true events that took place during the 1950s rock ‘n’ roll music scene in Memphis, Tennessee.

The production, which runs at Engeman Theater in Northport through May 9, enjoyed a three-year stint on Broadway from 2009-2012, and earned four 2010 Tony Awards.

Earth-shattering voices, lively dance sequences and comic relief dazzled members of the audience, while the story depicted underground dance clubs and the emotional struggle to break racial boundaries. Characters rise to fame as music breaks the boundaries of difference, while bringing people together. 

The cast of “Memphis” lights up the stage at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport. Here, the cast performs “Memphis Lives in Me.”

The cast of “Memphis” lights up the stage at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport. Here, the cast performs “Memphis Lives in Me.”

“I thought it was really well put together,” said Danielle Dimeo, of Northport, who was in the audience. “You could feed off their energy.”

Igor Goldin directs the production at John W. Engeman Theater (250 Main St.); James Olmstead is the musical director, and choreography is handled by Antoinette Dipietropolo.

With pipes that can blow off the roof, Felicia (Breanna Bartley) is an ambitious African American singer of soul, who emerges from the underground scene in search of her big break.

Breanna Bartley gives an emotional performance singing “Colored Woman” in the John Engeman Theater’s production of “Memphis.”

Breanna Bartley gives an emotional performance singing “Colored Woman” in the John Engeman Theater’s production of “Memphis.”

Huey (Carson Higgins), a quirky southern radio DJ, whose voice parallels that of Gavin DeGraw, is persistent in winning over Felicia’s heart and breaking racial boundaries by being the first white DJ to play African American music.

A forbidden love sparks between Felicia and Huey, delivering an exciting and hopeful pull, but violence from the outside world threatens to destroy their mixed racial relationship.

As the story darkens, fearing for the lives of the characters, members of the audience wiped tears from their faces, reaching for tissues as they witnessed the realistic nature of racial issues during the time period.

A scene led by Gator (Jarred Bedgood), a character who has not spoken since his father was killed, delivers a strong message, one that has stuck with Bedgood.

“For me specifically, [it’s] a huge moment,” Bedgood, of New York City, said. “In that moment, Gator is pleading to stop all this violence because, as everyone knows, he saw his own father die and, since then, he’s had this distrust for white people.”

However, Gator is shown a different side, one that evokes hope.

Breanna Bartley delivers a roof-raising performance, singing “Underground” with the “Memphis” ensemble at the John Engeman Theater in Northport.

Breanna Bartley delivers a roof-raising performance, singing “Underground” with the “Memphis” ensemble at the John Engeman Theater in Northport.

The characters rise together in fame through love and friendship regardless of skin color. However, the accompanying repercussions force them to move on in life.

A final number ignites the stage, uplifting members of the audience, who whistled, clapped and joined together in a standing ovation.

“I enjoyed the whole thing: the dynamic, the performance and the whole cast was fabulous,” Margaret Dimeo, of Northport, said. “I think it was one of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time.”

Showtimes for Memphis at the John W. Engeman Theater are: Thursday and Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sundays 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are $69-$74, and can be purchased at the box office, or at Engemantheater.com.