March 10 (Bloomberg) -- Eighteen months into its run at the Shubert Theatre, “Memphis” rocks better than ever.
Much of that is thanks to Adam Pascal who has taken over the role of disc jockey Huey Calhoun and made it his own.
The primary reason, however, is that this remains a wildly entertaining musical with fine songs, high energy and a heart of gold. It fully deserved its Best Musical Tony Award in 2010.
Calhoun is a white man in Memphis during the early 1950s, when Jim Crow still reigned and “race music” was limited to bars frequented by blacks and radio stations at the end of the dial.
When Huey is turned on by the blues he hears from the street, he descends into a grotto bar and his life is changed.
“This is the music of my soul,” he tells a skeptical crowd, promising to make a star of the singer, Felicia Farrell (the magnificent Montego Glover, who originated the role).
Of course they become lovers. And of course Southern sentiments rise to the surface in the form of violence against Felicia and picketing of Huey’s integrated concerts.
Things don’t tie up sweetly. The songs (by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan) deftly mix blues, blues-infused rock and gospel. And yet the show has serious ideas on its mind, mashing themes of race hate with the singer on the rise, a la “A Star Is Born.”
Pascal, a veteran of “Rent” and other shows, kicks up a storm as the mischievous Huey, drunk on love and soul music and the city that gives the show its name. He’s electrifying. Go see for yourself.
At 225 W. 44th St. Information: +1- 212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. Rating: *** (Jeremy Gerard)
Early in “An Iliad” at off-Broadway’s New York Theatre Workshop, the poet-narrator-wanderer ruminates on the subject of soldiers coming home after nine years fighting in the Trojan War.
“You left, your baby was 1, you come back, your baby is dead,” he said, rattling off possibilities. “You come back, your wife has had three affairs and two more kids.”
Written by Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson, who directs, and based on the translation by Robert Fagles, the one-man show zips from tragedy to light comedy, from poetry to contemporary prose. I saw O’Hare, who shares the role with Stephen Spinella. Both are Tony Award winners familiar to New Yorkers.
Wearing a baggy outfit and work boots, the guide is initially sheepish recounting his story of endless, pointless slaughter. He gradually becomes as obsessed in the telling as his protagonists were in the doing.
The 100 minute-adaptation of “The Iliad” -- or least part of it, hence “An Iliad” -- aims to bring the rage of Achilles and the grace of his nemesis, Hector, home to American audiences.
Young soldiers on hundreds of Greek ships are “from every small town in Ohio...the boys of Nebraska or South Dakota,” he said, before listing other U.S. places.
“You get the point,” he says. Later he breaks from the glory and gore of his war story to enumerate more than 120 conflicts worldwide, starting with the Peloponnesian War, ending with Afghanistan, Libya and Syria.
O’Hare works hard to connect -- bellowing, racing from one end of the stage to the other, inhabiting at least a dozen characters.
Keeping track of everyone from Paris to Patroclus to Priam isn’t easy. O’Hare’s abundant talent can’t mask that the play is more “tell” than “show.”
Scott Zielinski’s lighting and scene transitions are striking. The set by Rachel Hauck is largely bare, save for a bassist (Brian Ellingsen) on an overhead platform playing Mark Bennett’s dissonant and evocative music.
Through March 25 at 79 E. 4th St. Information: +1-212-279-4200; http://nytw.org. Rating: * 1/2 (Philip Boroff)
What the Stars Mean: **** Do Not Miss *** Excellent ** Good * So-So (No stars) Avoid
(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic, and Philip Boroff is a writer, for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are their own.)
To contact the writers of this column:
Jeremy Gerard in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Philip Boroff in New York at email@example.com.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.