Salisbury Press

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Bringing 'Memphis' to State Theatre

Wednesday, February 5, 2014 by ELIZABETH OUELLETTE Special to The Press in Focus

"First and Foremost, it's about the music," says Colin Byrne, cast manager for the Tony Award-winning, "Memphis," to explain the popularity of the Broadway hit that comes to the State Theatre for the Arts, 453 Northampton St., at 3 p.m. Feb. 9.

Byrne, an Easton native and 2000 graduate of Wilson Area High School, says the musical evokes the spirit of the 1950's when music bridged the gap between blacks and whites.

"It's inspired by true events when radio deejays were able to help overcome prejudice through music," Byrne explains.

Byrne is excited to return to his hometown with the national tour. In his youth, he worked as a stage hand at the State Theatre. Coming back with a touring musical is something special for him.

He relates how David Bryan, a founding member of Bon Jovi, wrote the music for "Memphis," noting that the songs Bryan wrote and their 1950's rhythm and blues style have something unique behind them.

"There is something about that era. It was fresh and new, but had elements of the classics. That appeals to people, no matter what their age," he says.

Cast member Jerrial T. Young, who plays Bobby DuPree, believes the power of "Memphis" lies in its choreography. "There is a lot of dancing and almost every number has a dance to it. It's all very high-energy, with jumps and leaps across the floor."

Young says that his character, Bobby, begins the show as a very behind-the-scenes fixture, who is timid at first, but becomes a show-stopper by the end of the musical. Bobby, an African-American, faces his fears and finds his voice.

"All the music, the history, really, make 'Memphis' special," relates Young, "You can see how music opened up doors for both blacks and whites at that time."

"Memphis," which received four 2010 Tony Awards including Best Musical, features a Tony Award-winning book by Joe DiPietro ('I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change"), is directed by Tony nominee Christopher Ashley ("Xanadu") and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo ("Jersey Boys").