by Lorie Lewis Ham
Another Valley premiere is arriving in July-the musical Memphis will be opening at the Reedley Opera House on July 6! I took a moment to chat with director, Joseph Ham about this amazing show.
KRL: When and how did you first discover the musical Memphis?
Joseph: It was about two years ago that I first saw Memphis. I had heard a couple of the more well-known musical numbers from the show, but hadn’t bothered to really check it out until I found the entire Broadway production on YouTube for free. So one day I finally sat down and watched it and was absolutely floored by this gem of a musical.
KRL: What was it that made you want to direct the show?
Joseph: After finally watching the Broadway production, and listening to the soundtrack a dozen times, I started to think “The Central Valley HAS to see this incredible show.” Then as I thought about it more, I thought, why not in Reedley? So I proposed the show to our Executive Director over at RCTC, Steve Jones, and was met with mild concern simply due to how difficult the show is to cast, but I eventually won them over and we placed it on our 2018 season.
KRL: Can you tell us a little about the story and the music?
Joseph: Memphis takes place in 1950s Memphis, Tennessee and follows Huey Calhoun, an aspiring white radio DJ who dreams of bringing black music, the music he loves, to the “center of the radio dial.” In pursuit of that dream, he falls in love with Felicia, a black night club singer who has dreams of her own. The story centers around their rise to fame and the immense struggles surrounding their relationship in such a racially tumultuous time and place. This wonderfully soaring story is set to a soulful, powerful musical score of old school rock n’ roll and blues, composed by David Bryan, founding member of Bon Jovi.
KRL: Is it based on a true story?
Joseph: The story in Memphis is loosely based on events surrounding white radio DJ Dewey Phillips, who introduced black music to white audiences in 1950s Memphis, Tennessee.
KRL: What are some of the special challenges you faced directing this show on such a small stage?
Joseph: RCTC is no stranger to producing big shows on our tiny stage. However, as they always do, limits breed creativity. There are a handful of numbers that require a split focus between many different groups of characters whose scenes are taking place simultaneously but in separate settings, so staging those scenes appropriately to confer that separation is always an exercise in patience. And of course a big rock n’ roll show like this one requires some degree of interesting, often colorful lighting, so I’ve spent many hours digging through boxes and rigging lights in every nook and cranny I can find!
KRL: What is it you love most about this show?
Joseph: I could go on for days listing everything I love about this incredible musical, from the dialogue, to the music, and the setting. But, if I had to give you the reason I adore this show as much as I do in one condensed package, it would be this: Memphis takes you on an emotional journey that dives into social/racial issues, as many have before, but it does so through intimately, honestly written characters and music that always serves the story and never feels out of place. There’s no fat or filler here. This is a show that spent six years going through many wildly different variations before finally making its Broadway debut, so it has been refined to near perfection.
KRL: I believe this is a Valley premiere correct?
Joseph: The National Touring production came through the area a few years ago, but other than that, yes this is the Central Valley premiere of Memphis.
KRL: How big is the cast?
Joseph: We’ve got a stellar cast of 21 performers in Memphis, including Central Valley theatre veterans Jonathan Wheeler and Camille Gaston in the leading roles of Huey and Felicia.
KRL: What are the dates and where can people get tickets?
Joseph: Memphis plays July 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 15, 19, 20, 21, 22, 27, 28, and 29 at the historic Reedley Opera House in downtown Reedley. You can get tickets by calling our Box Office at (559) 638 – 6500 or visiting ReedleyRiverCityTheatre.org.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Joseph: Memphis is truly a special show, one that comes around very rarely, and this production of one you would sorely regret missing. Come on down to the Reedley Opera House and feel the beat!