DiPietro & Bryan's Musical Memphis, With Kimball, Morgan and Glover, Begins in CA

By Kenneth Jones
August 19, 2008

A white deejay playing "black music" in the early-1950s South causes a personal, professional and social earthquake in the new musical, Memphis, starting Aug. 19 at the La Jolla Playhouse in California.

Chad Kimball is the disc-spinner in question in the musical (subtitled The Birth of Rock 'n' Roll) by librettist-lyricist Joe DiPietro and composer-lyricist David Bryan (Bon Jovi keyboardist and founding member). Performances play La Jolla Playhouse's Mandell Weiss Theatre to Sept. 28. Opening is Sept. 3.

Cass Morgan, Montego Glover, J. Bernard Calloway, Allen Fitzpatrick, James Monroe Iglehart and Michael Benjamin Washington take principal roles in the staging.

Memphis is the first production directed by Christopher Ashley at La Jolla Playhouse since becoming artistic director.

"Memphis is a story about the passion and roots of rock 'n' roll featuring an original gospel, rhythm & blues and early rock score fused with a contemporary sensibility," according to La Jolla Playhouse. "The musical follows the life of the first white deejay who dares to play black music at the center of the radio dial. Taking place on legendary Beale Street in the early 1950s, this dynamic show puts audiences front and center at the birth of rock 'n' roll."

Heading the cast are Kimball (Lennon, Good Vibrations, Into the Woods, My Life With Albertine) as Huey, Montego Glover (The Color Purple, Dreamgirls) as Felicia, J. Bernard Calloway (The Good Negro, "Rescue Me," "Law & Order") as Delray, Allen Fitzpatrick (42nd Street, "Kissing Jessica Stein," "Law & Order") as Mr. Simmons, Cass Morgan (Mary Poppins, Ring of Fire) as Mrs. Calhoun, James Monroe Iglehart (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) as Bobby and Michael Benjamin Washington (Mamma Mia!, La Jolla Playhouse's The Wiz) as Gator.

Memphis' ensemble includes Brad Bass, Tracee Beazer, Josh Breckenridge, Kevin Covert, Dionne D. Figgins, John Eric Parker, Jermaine Remberdt, Melanie Vaughan, Daniel Watts, Charlie Williams and locals Lorene Chesley, Steve Gunderson, Lauren Lim Jackson, Cashae Monya, Jill Morrison, Irungu Mutu, Pearl Rhein and Megan Yelaney.

DiPietro is known for I Love You, Your Perfect, Now Change; The Thing About Men; Over the River and Through the Woods and All Shook Up.

The creative team includes set designer/co-projection designer David Gallo, costume designer Paul Tazewell, choreographer Sergio Trujillo, lighting designer Howell Binkley, wig and hair designer Chuck LaPointe, sound designer Ken Travis, co-projection designer Shawn Sagady, stage manager Frank Hartenstein, production manager Peter J. Davis, dramaturg Gabriel Greene. Associate producer is Dana I. Harrell.

Musical supervisor is Christopher Jahnke. Orchestrations are by Darryl Waters.

The show is based on a concept by George W. George and co-produced in conjunction with The 5th Avenue Theatre (Seattle, WA), where it will surface in early 2009. Two early developmental productions of Memphis played at North Shore Music Theatre (MA) and TheatreWorks (CA).

Performance times in La Jolla, CA, are Tuesday and Wednesday, 7:30 PM; Thursday through Saturday, 8 PM; and Sundays 7 PM. Matinees are held on Saturdays and Sundays at 2 PM.

Single ticket prices range from $42 to $100. To purchase, call (858) 550-1010 or online at www.lajollaplayhouse.org.