Today we know how the soundtrack of the civil rights movement became rock ’n’ roll. At least it was for those on the white side of the culture wars 60 years ago, the ones who were driven by their willingness to integrate.
Back in the racist southland of 1952 -- a time portrayed in the nonstop energy of “Memphis” playing through March 3 at the downtown Music Hall -- Elvis was still an unknown truck driver and no white person of consequence thought “race music” amounted to anything.
That is the message strongly declared throughout this Broadway in Tucson presentation filled with many wowzer moments from a cast of talents that runs deeper than any previous Broadway In Tucson production…ever.
Full-out singing by everyone is more than matched by a hallelujah chorus line of dancers turning Sergio Trujillo’s choreography into a joyful expression of unbridled happiness. Music is setting these people free (both white and black), giving them a taste of the new life that’s coming.
Let it be known, these are not nuanced performers who value subtlety.
Neither is “Memphis” interested in giving August Wilson’s plays any competition in the world of serious theater.
To which we say, “Who cares?” Make that: to which we shout “WHO CARES?”
“Memphis” vibrates with positive energy. All that singing. All that dancing. Just give in to the performers’ continuous urging to clap, shout and have a great time.
Don’t forget, this show did receive the 2010 Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards for Best Musical.
Broadway vet Joe DiPietro did the book and co-wrote the lyrics. David Bryan, the original keyboard guy in Bon Jovi, did the rest of the lyrics and give his rock ‘n’ roll heart to the richly flavored music combining traditional gospel, blues and rock punched up with an R&B horn section.
The entire score is new, but cleverly recalls the tone of roots rock that preceded Sun Studios’ pioneering artists recording in Memphis. Even the nine-member stage band was feeding off of the energy from these crazy kids who believed in this primal music.
Certainly it should be noted that Lindsay Roberts, who stepped in for Felicia Boswell in the lead role of Felicia, was an absolute knock-out. The word understudy should never used next to Lindsay Roberts’ name.
She grabbed her role by the scruff of its neck, slung it around over her head and hurled it out into the audience.
Boswell will be returning to her lead spot, however.
The story line, if you insist, begins with the restless youngster Huey (Bryan Fenkart), believing white people would love black music if they just heard it on the radio.
That idea is just too far-fetched for even the black people to believe, but Huey is a persistent lad with a hoky country accent. Once he hears Felicia sing in a black nightclub, Huey is on his crusade to get her records played on the air.
By the third song you won’t be thinking that everybody knows exactly what will happen next. You’ll just want more of that exuberant “Memphis” singin’ and dancin’.
“Memphis” continues through March 3 at the Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave., with performances at 7:30 p.m.Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 27-28; 8 p.m. Friday, March 1; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets are $29-$69. For details and reservations, www.broadwayintucson.com