Memphis, which won the 2010 Tony Award for best musical, makes its bay area premiere Tuesday to begin a weeklong run at Ruth Eckerd Hall. Created by playwright Joe DiPietro (book and lyrics) and Bon Jovi keyboard player David Bryan (music and lyrics), it tells the story of a white DJ in segregated Memphis who broke the race barrier by playing black rhythm and blues records on his show.
It stars Bryan Fenkart as Huey Calhoun — loosely modeled on Dewey Phillips, a Memphis DJ in the '50s — and Felicia Boswell as a singer. With a nine-piece band, the show sports an artful amalgam of the legendary Stax sound, named for the Memphis record label of Otis Redding and other soul greats, and musical theater.
"The first time I read Joe's script, I knew exactly how the show should sound," Bryan said. "I grew up on that kind of music, songs like Hold On, I'm Comin' and Knock on Wood."
For one actor in the cast, the Memphis engagement at the Clearwater hall is a homecoming. Quentin Earl Darrington, a Lakeland native and USF grad who plays the principal role of Delray, a club owner, won Ruth Eckerd's youth talent scholarship for musical theater as a teenager and studied at the hall's Hoffman Institute in the 1990s (see sidebar).
Memphis opens Tuesday and runs through Feb. 12. $40-$70. 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Feb. 12. (727) 791-7400; rutheckerhall.com.
To read more about Memphis, see Sunday's Latitudes.
John Fleming, Times performing arts critic