NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

December 7, 2012

'Memphis' comes home

Musical with North Shore roots returns to region

“Memphis” finds its way back to the region this month with a run at the Colonial Theatre in Boston. During its travels to the Big Apple, this musical production enjoyed a three-year run on Broadway and garnered the 2010 Tony for best musical.

That’s not too shabby for the upstart first staged at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly in 2003.

“It’s all due to Jon Kimbell,” said Joe DiPietro, who wrote “Memphis” with collaborator David Bryan.

Kimbell, who is NSMT’s longtime artistic director, attended a workshop production of “Memphis” in California in 2002, but saw just the first act, DiPietro said.

That was enough for Kimbell, DiPietro said, who approached the creative team during a break.

“He said, ‘I want to put this on the main stage at (NSMT) next year. I have to catch a plane but my people will call your agent tomorrow,’” DiPietro continued. “I was sort of stunned. Things just don’t happen that simply in this business.”

And yet, that’s what happened.

“Memphis” is set in the segregated South of the 1950s, during the infancy of rock ‘n’ roll. It tells the story of Huey Calhoun, a white disc jockey who falls in love with a young black singer, Felicia Farrell. The two garner fame in racially charged Tennessee.

The story is loosely based on Dewey Phillips, one of the first white DJs to play black music in 1950s Memphis.

DiPietro wrote the musical’s book and script. Bryan, the Bon Jovi keyboard player, wrote the music. They penned the lyrics together.

Bill Hanney, who reopened North Shore Music Theatre in 2010, is pleased with the success of “Memphis.”

“I’m just so happy,” Hanney said. “It’s such a terrific show. … I’ve seen it four times and I’ll also attend opening night in Boston.”

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