Opinion » Editorial

Memphis and Memphis

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With the expected segue between last season's exhilarating Grizzlies showing and the prospect of more this season having been stalled mercilessly and in danger of being aborted altogether, our city was badly in need of a morale-building entertainment to fill the breach, and Memphis the musical was it.

As our reviewers astutely noted, there was something less than a one-to-one relationship between the plot elements of the musical Memphis and the real history of Memphis music. Indeed, as local audiences watched the narrative of the Broadway show onstage at the Orpheum, as presented by a touring cast, one reaction was fairly common — a sense of "That's not right. ... No, that's not accurate. ... That's not even close. ...Hey, this is pretty good!"

For, as no few philosophers and saints have reminded us, there are facts, and there is the truth. And they are not necessarily the same thing.

Those same audiences, who, on a night-to-night basis, had to include a fairly generous sample of music-savvy Memphians, seemed to have no trouble suspending disbelief despite the numerous inaccuracies. And by inaccuracies, we're making full allowance for the differences between fact and fiction. Just for starters, though: Country music did not get its due in the roots parade; the disparagement of  local "Christians" as reactionary Gloomy Gus types ignored the gospel antecedents of local forebears, both white and black (though the Rev. Herbert Brewster's church choir got a significant hat-tip). And, most importantly, the musical's score, even at its most exhilarating, didn't begin to resemble the earthy stuff that actually came out of here and rocked the world.

Not in a New York minute and not by a country mile.

But still, you'd have to be a pretty hard customer not to appreciate the intrinsic tribute to the city that the musical represented. And the story line, based loosely on the life and career of Dewey Phillips, as close to being the ur-disc jockey of rhythm and blues and rock-and-roll as anybody else, was compelling. Though significantly different in presumed bio and persona from Phillips, the Huey Calhoun character had the look and feel (if not altogether the sound) of the real deal.

And there were several gratifying reminders to the old guard who actually remember Daddy-O Dewey — among them, Calhoun's "Hockadoo" echoing Phillips' "Dee-Gaw"; Calhoun's madcap spiel for "Dupont Beer" close in spirit to Phillips' for Falstaff Beer: "Yeassuh, folks, Falstaff Beer! If you cain't drink it, freeze it and eat it or open up a cotton-picking rib and pour it in!"; and the TV-show sidekick with a 'gator mask doubling for Phillips' ape-masked Harry Fritzius.

The truest proof of the communion between the show's performers and those who saw them here: In several performances, including the final one on Sunday, the audience applauded long and loud when the Calhoun character was told his radio show had hit number one in the ratings!

Memphis is gone now, and those who missed it missed something. But hey, Million Dollar Quartet, the Broadway show recapping the feats of Elvis, Jerry Lee, Johnny, and Carl is right behind it this spring at the selfsame Orpheum.


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