Theater

Memphis

When: Oct. 14-23 2011

Be prepared to hear “Hockadoo” a lot while Memphis the musical is at the Orpheum. The Tony Award-winning Broadway show launches its first national tour in its namesake city this week, which means the weird interjection used repeatedly by the show’s rebellious DJ Huey Calhoun will be as inescapable as the Star Wars theme in 1977. Memphis composer and Bon Jovi keyboard player David Bryan has described the word as “nonsense” and “fun-sounding.” Huey, a character loosely based on WHBQ DJ Dewey Phillips, uses it as a salutation, an affirmation, a mating call, a battle cry, and a curse. Like Fonzie from Happy Days saying “Ayyyyyy” but way nerdier.

Phillips’ actual biography was too dark for Broadway and verisimilitude wasn’t playwright Joe DiPietro’s aim. Ask, and he wonders aloud if Rodgers and Hammerstein spent time in Oklahoma. It’s Memphis’ mythic quality that interested DiPietro, a prolific writer whose comic gem I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change has become Off-Broadway’s second-longest-running show. And Memphis’ interracial love story plays out like an R&B Orpheus set in the violently segregated South. DiPietro, who also penned the book for the Elvis-themed jukebox musical All Shook Up, says he didn’t want Memphis to sound like a “golden oldies” jukebox musical. Bryan’s blue-eyed soul won’t be mistaken for the sounds of Sun and Stax, but crowd-pleasers like “Memphis Lives in Me” still press the right emotional buttons, while more effective numbers like “Change Don’t Come Easy” tap deep gospel roots.

So, whatever it means, Memphis is here: Hockadoo!

Chris Davis

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