The Captain and I like going to see musicals. Unfortunately, we are almost eight hours from the lights of Broadway, so we have to take what we can get in good ol’ Ohio. Last year, we decided to buy season tickets to the Broadway series at the Cleveland Playhouse and it was one of the best entertainment decisions we have ever made.
The most recent performance was the musical Memphis. I really didn’t know what to expect besides it being the 2010 Tony Award winner for Best Musical (which pretty much was all I needed to know).
It was – hands down – one of the best musicals I have seen. Ever. Now, I have to admit, I really like rock and roll. In fact, I think most of America/England/Canada/basically most of the world digs rock and roll. Earlier this season, we saw Million Dollar Quartet and I felt like I was watching Elvis, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis live in concert. It was breathtaking. Memphis was breathtaking as well, but for different reasons.
One of the biggest movies of 2011 was The Help based on the book by Kathryn Stockett. Sometimes taking a risk and exposing some of the less-than-stellar aspects of our history, as Kathryn Stockett did, is a good thing. Memphis, too, took this risk. It spoke of an uglier time in American history – one of racism, bigotry and extreme prejudice. Memphis focused on the music scene where radio was dominated by the extremely caucasion Perry Como’s of the world, and radio stations, just like schools, drinking fountains and seats on the bus, were completely segregated.
The story begins with an aspiring white DJ, who appreciated good music, stating it is “The Music of My Soul,” begins to break through the barrier and integrate black music (which was referred to as “race music” in the musical – I was shocked to learn this was a common term in the 50s) into the mainstream. Think Hairspray but with even more of a statement. The musical also delved into a love story involving an interracial couple – the lead DJ and the amazing singer he fell for. This very sweet relationship, happening during such a perilous time, sadly caused both of them much heartache. Until the mid 70s, there were laws throughout the Southern states banning interracial marriages. For this couple, the choice became clear: stay in the South and hide the relationship or move to NYC and be together.
Parts of the musical were heartbreaking. It is sometimes difficult to be reminded of the racism: it’s bitter nastiness and extreme hatred. Parts of the musical were uplifting. The progression of how this DJ motivated a great change in society. Parts of the musical were dynamic. The singing and dancing were truly outstanding. This is an excellent musical to see.
Oh, and, we’ve come a long way since the 1950s. Thank goodness. I hope we, as a nation, can keep moving forward.
If the Broadway tour of Memphis stops in a town nearby, get tickets. Don’t hesitate for a moment. It is worth it. “Memphis Lives in Me.”