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Entertainment & Lifestyle

Musical tale ‘Memphis’ on E.J. Thomas stage

3/20/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

From left, Eddie Urish (Gordon Grant), Joey Elrose (Huey) and Jasmin Richardson (Felicia) share a scene in “Memphis,” which will take the stage at The University of Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall March 25-26.
Photo: Jeremy Daniel
DOWNTOWN AKRON — Less than a year after seeing “Memphis” for the first time, performer Joey Elrose is now the lead in the Tony Award-winning musical’s national tour.

The New York native, who will join his castmates on stage at The University of Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall March 25-26, said he saw “Memphis: Direct from Broadway,” filmed in 2011, on Netflix last summer while he was appearing in “Rent” in Los Angeles. When he saw the show’s male lead character, Huey Calhoun, he said, “That role is me.”

“He’s just full of love and gets very excited about things and he’s a go-getter,” Elrose said. “He finds out what he wants to do and he goes out and gets what he wants. I feel like I have a lot of those same qualities.”

“Memphis” won the Tony for Best Musical in 2010. The musical tells the story of Huey, a white man in Memphis in 1955 who flips for the sounds of black music and falls for a black singer, Felicia, he meets at a club called Delrays. Huey convinces a radio station owner to give him a job as a disc jockey, and his show, featuring the new music sounds, becomes a hit, while Felicia herself is on the road to stardom. But challenges ensue from their relationship and the cultural shift occurring in music and society.

Elrose said the character of Huey is based loosely on real-life Memphis disc jockey Dewey Phillips, who is credited with being the first to play Elvis Presley on the radio.

“The cool part is it’s a history lesson,” Elrose said. “[Dewey Phillips] didn’t fall in love with a black soul singer, but he had to fight to get this music on the radio.”

The show features a Tony-winning score by keyboardist David Bryan (of Bon Jovi), who also wrote the lyrics with Joe DiPietro.

Elrose said he has two favorite parts of the show, both in the second act. The first is the number “Love Will Stand When All Else Fails,” sung by Felicia, who is played by Jasmin Richardson.

“Jasmin is just incredible,” he said.

He also loves “Tear Down the House,” which is featured when Huey is being considered to host a TV music show in New York. 

“Things don’t go exactly right at the station when Huey is told some of the black kids on the show won’t be able to continue on it,” Elrose said. “He rebels and there’s a lot of dancing and a lot of fun.”

This will be the second time in recent years that Elrose will appear on the E.J. Thomas stage. He also was a swing — an actor who learns multiple roles to fill in where needed — in “Rock of Ages” when it made an Akron stop in 2011.

“I understudied seven parts, and I was lucky enough to play all except for one,” he said. “It was so much fun and I learned a lot about singing rock ‘n’ roll.”

For now, he’s enjoying the chance to lead a show and the challenges that brings.

“If I try something for a laugh and it doesn’t work, I have one more show tomorrow to do it again and try something else out,” he said. “It’s great to be able to try my best to perfect the role.”

Showtime at E.J. Thomas, 198 Hill St., is 7:30 p.m. Tickets, priced from $36.50 to $56.50, are on sale now at ticketmaster.com, all TicketMaster locations, by calling 800-745-3000 or the Thomas Hall Ticket Office at 330-972-7570.

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