Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Sneak Peek at MEMPHIS

From the Beale Street clubs of 1950s Memphis, Tennessee, comes a hot new Broadway musical - inspired by actual events - with heart, soul and energy to burn. He's a young, white radio DJ named Huey Calhoun whose love of music transcends race lines and airwaves. She's a black singer named Felicia Farrell, whose career is on the rise, but who can't break out of segregated clubs. When the two collaborate, her soulful music reaches radio audiences everywhere, and the Golden Era of early rock 'n' roll takes flight. But as things start to heat up, whether the world is really ready for their music - or their love - is put to the test.

A thrilling theatrical event that combines Broadway splendor with the roots of rock, MEMPHIS features an original story by Joe DiPietro (I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change) and a brand-new score with music by Bon Jovi founding member David Bryan. Directing is Tony® nominee Christopher Ashley (Xanadu) and choreography is by Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys). The cast also features Derrick Baskin, J. Bernard Calloway, James Monroe Iglehart, Tony nominee Michael McGrath and Cass Morgan.

Get ready to experience all the exuberance and the emotion...the beauty and the controversy...of a wondrous, defining time in our history.  You're tuning in to MEMPHIS at The Orpheum Theatre October 14-23.

Get your tickets NOW!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Orpheum STAR Reporter Les Mis Review

By Lesley Stevenson - St. Mary's Episcopal School

Les Misérables, playing at the Orpheum Theatre September 13-18, fundamentally alters the traditional view of musicals. The show could almost qualify as an opera – dialogue is limited to rare emotional outbursts – and its multiple themes explode from rich lyrics that narrate not just the life of main character Jean Valjean but the human experience as a whole. One walks away from Les Mis feeling not merely the contentment that comes from witnessing an escapist or reflective musical but the deep emotional fulfillment arising from a work of pure beauty.

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time,” penned Catholic writer Thomas Merton. On the grand scale of art on the grand scale of time, our minds easily forget that art does not limit itself to frame-able objects and sculpture. By definition, art is personal and valued chiefly in the beauty and emotional response an audience finds in it. With this view in mind, it is unquestionable that Les Mis is anything but art. The production is so overwhelmingly, achingly beautiful that one must simultaneously experience the pangs of heart wrenching grief combined with the ecstasy of glorious song.

Truly this has been Les Mis’s mission for the twenty-five years of its record-setting run. The show ultimately describes life, its joys and its tragedies. In the end circumstance, though not resolved, is alleviated by remembrance of happiness and the small moments that propel one through the daily drudge.

The story is not particularly fantastic: Jean Valjean is released from a 19th century French prison where he served time for stealing bread, evades parole, and lives his life both paying for and escaping his previous wrongs and examining how his actions affected those nearest to him. But its lack of fantastical plot is what drives the relatable experience that makes Les Mis incredibly universal.

Mirroring the extremities of life, Les Mis engrains its vision in the audience with show-stopping songs that honestly take one’s breath away. During the final notes of “Bring Him Home,” a song revered for its challengingly high-pitched melody, Valjean’s final highest notes unassumingly soar from the stage in a lyrical wonder too inspiring to describe. The audience could not even begin to applaud actor J. Mark McVey as they breathlessly waited for the song’s completion. Betsy Morgan as Fantine and Chasten Harmon as Éponine outshine almost everyone else, executing such stunners as “I Dreamed a Dream,” “On My Own,” and “A Little Fall of Rain” precisely and boldly with almost no props to assist in the telling of their stories. Their glorious vocals perfectly complete Les Mis in the finale song, reviving the tune heard during Fantine’s death and in “On My Own” with a grippingly delicate harmony that seals the loose ends created in Valjean’s life story. I myself could not help tearing up – not because the story depressed me, solely because the music was beyond the beauty of anything I had witnessed before.

So too does the show abound in seemingly minor moments that haunt the audience for the duration of the show: melody lines and even lyrics repeat, images define the tone for several scenes, and simple glances permanently disrupt characters’ interactions. The redesigned set of this 25th anniversary production both contributes to the show’s humble story and its spectacular new vision. Ordinary designs of houses, battlements, and carts take on new qualities when stylistically created to enhance the rustic beauty that now serves as the show’s guiding theme.

Inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo, author of the original book Les Misérables, the backdrops are a visionary sequence of watercolor creations that seamlessly tie all props together and blend from one scene to the next. Certain moments, cleverly and artfully crafted, extend the idea of paintings to the entire stage; dramatic lights illuminate silhouettes just so, rich colors of backdrops and costumes saturate the image, and characters conform to their scenery as if it were real. Taken out of context, short snapshots could serve as paintings themselves like tableaux to tell the story of Jean Valjean.

Truly it is most difficult to convey the entire sense of splendor that Les Misérables imparts. Everyone with whom I have spoken since attending opening night has agreed that it is art beyond the sense of a straightforward musical. Though it is an emotionally draining three-hour performance, the length packs in moments too precious to forget. Do not miss this chance to witness an assuredly thought-provoking – if not life-changing – work of astounding beauty.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Les Miserables in Go Memphis!

An excerpt from Friday's cover story in Go Memphis.

'Les Miserables' gets new look for 25th anniversary
By Christopher Blank

If you had butterflies in your stomach while opening this section of the newspaper today (or while clicking the above headline on our website), it's likely that you have some interest in musical theater.

Enough interest, at least, that you'll probably ace the following quiz.
Name the musicals associated with the following images:
1. Old feline on a flying tire.
2. Masked man in a gondola on an underground lake.
3. Helicopter.
4. French revolutionaries waving a flag.

If there's one thing you can say about the genius of British theatrical producer Cameron Mackintosh, besides the fact that he's a very rich man, it's that each of his most commercially successful musicals has etched images into our collective unconscious that, more than 20 years later, are still remarkably easy to spot when they're spoofed on "The Simpsons," "Family Guy" or "South Park."

 But none of the aforementioned highlights from "Cats," "The Phantom of the Opera" and "Miss Saigon" has raked in more comic residuals than the flag-waving scene from "Les Miserables." It has become such a trope of valor and heroic optimism that other musicals regularly borrow it for a visual joke, a joke that isn't any less stale in the recent "Shrek the Musical" (2008) than it was in "Spamalot" (2005) or "Urinetown" (2001).

In 2008, on the eve of the presidential election, a parody YouTube video called "Les Misbarack" depicted campaign staffers for Barack Obama lip-synching to the epic Act I closing song "One Day More." As expected, the office workers gradually organize themselves into the song's classic "V" formation finale, defiantly raise their fists toward heaven and wave an Obama campaign poster instead of a flag. The low-budget video got more than a million views.

Countless international tours of "Les Miserables," along with several concerts and revivals, have burned the show's iconic imagery into the minds of generations of theater-goers. So when Mackintosh decided to scrap the famous old set design for the 25th anniversary tour of "Les Miserables," which arrives in Memphis on Tuesday at the Orpheum, the new set designer faced a heap of scrutiny.

Matt Kinley, who had worked as an associate designer on Mackintosh's West End shows "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and "Mary Poppins," would have to figure out a new way to reframe the dramatic life story of Jean Valjean, the heroic petty criminal relentlessly pursed by an obsessive policeman, Javert.

"You have to be mindful of what you're doing," Kinley said from Mackintosh's London office. "This isn't the kind of show where people want to see the avant-garde version. There was never any dictation that certain things were sacrosanct, but you also don't want to infringe on people's claim to the old show. The classic "V" formation is ingrained, and those ingrained images become difficult for a team rolling out a new version of a landmark production."

To continue reading, please visit the Go Memphis homepage or click here

Friday, September 9, 2011

Pat Halloran on Les Miserables

Les Miserables is playing September 13-18, 2011 at The Orpheum Theatre.  Orpheum President, Pat Halloran, shares his thoughts on this legendary musical and the new 25th anniversary production.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

MEMPHIS: Knox and Dewey Phillips

The revolutionary actions of Memphis, TN DJ, Dewey Phillips, helped to inspire the story behind MEMPHIS, the musical. Close friend Knox Phillips, son of Sun Studio founder, Sam Phillips shares his memories of Dewey.