I feel bad for not enjoying the experience of watching Memphis at the Smith Center. I got to dress up, spend time with my husband, and see & hear talented people perform on stage so I am appreciative even though I can’t recommend the show itself.
The New York Times and the Las Vegas Review Journal are in agreement with my husband and me that the story just doesn’t hold up. I think in most musicals you “suspend your disbelief” when coincidences lead to plot advancement but not at the expense of not having character development.
The story follows Huey Calhoun as he attempts to bring the taboo music he enjoys to the mainstream radio (“the center of the dial”) in the 1950s. I suppose his strength is meant to be stubborn persistence but we never really get to know who he is except a fan of R&B.
I am reminded of #19 on Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling: “#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.” It just doesn’t ring true when all a main character does is have things happen to them instead of changing and growing. I get that we want the character here to prevail because he is trying to break across a racial barrier but that isn’t enough. Setting does not make story, even when your setting is a tense time in U.S. history. Now, some people did seem to heartily enjoy the show and I am not a professional reviewer but when you get a couple hours every month or so to spend on a date with your spouse you feel a little cheated when a show doesn’t measure up.
The dancing, sets, and performances were all well done but without a story to bolster it you are not moved. I cried during The Color Purple, wasn’t too thrilled with the changes in Mary Poppins but loved taking my daughter to see it, and I tapped my toes to Million Dollar Quartet but on the drive home from Memphis (and in e-mails back and forth in the days that followed) my husband and I just talked about how the show left us frustrated.
Even though the season ended on a tepid note I am so excited for Wicked in September! Beyond excited, actually, I first learned it would be featured right after my son was born and now he is going to be two next month!