Background: This past Christmas, I received a very special gift from my mother-- the new Memphis DVD. Having seen the show three times at the Shubert Theatre, I was ecstatic when it was announced that Memphis would be filmed and featured in movie theaters for a limited time last May, and subsequently released on DVD and Blu-ray. Memphis, one of my favorite new musicals, deservingly won the Tony Award for best new musical in 2010. Set in Memphis in the 1950‘s, the story focuses on the relationship between Huey Calhoun, the first white radio DJ to play rhythm and blues (“black music”), and Felicia Farrell, a talented African-American nightclub singer. This musical offers everything that an audience could possibly want in a show: comedy, a forbidden romance, powerful, energetic music, impressive choreography, exceptionally talented actors, amazing vocals, and a compelling story. Theatre does not get any better than Memphis. Trust me.
Despite my love for this musical, I silently wondered if the filmed version would live up to the live version. There is nothing like the experience of live theatre. Would Memphis be as powerful in my living room as it was in the Shubert Theatre?
Comments: Live theatre and film are obviously two very different experiences, but equally valuable. As the “curtain” rose in my living room, I heard the familiar drumbeat and bold brass of the opening number, “Underground” and I felt myself get the tingly feeling of excitement that I had also experienced three times at the Shubert Theatre; immediately, I was transported back to Beale Street in the 1950’s, becoming immersed in the story once again. Success.
The film certainly gives the audience the best view of the show, allowing the viewer to notice little gestures and expressions that might go unnoticed if you’re sitting in the back of the orchestra or mezzanine of the theatre. For example, I never realized how often Felicia winks when she sings and some of Bobby’s subtle facial expressions are priceless! The film is very well edited. There is actually a behind the scenes bonus feature on the DVD that explains how they use surround sound, and they compare what the original audio recording sounded like with the final product. The difference was amazing. The audio filled my living room. What I love most of all about the DVD is that it “immortalizes” the original broadway cast. I just love the chemistry between Montego Glover and Chad Kimball and of course, the rest of the talented original cast. And while I appreciate the amazing performances of replacement actors, the DVD is a great tribute to the actors who created the roles. The DVD is great for Memphis fans who want a dose of Memphis in between seeing live performances and it’s even better for people who are not able to come to Broadway or catch the show on tour.
The Verdict: The DVD succeeds in transporting its audience to 1950’s Memphis.
If you’ve seen Memphis on stage, you will see it through new eyes on DVD.
If you can’t see it live, the DVD is a great substitute until you CAN see it live!