From ‘Memphis’ to Reedley, the fight against racism must continue

River City Theatre Company offers an ambitious production of the Tony Award-winning musical

THEATER REVIEW

It’s a perfect time to reacquaint yourself with “Memphis,” the uplifting and thoughtful 2009 Broadway show focusing on how the crossover appeal of black music in the early 1950s helped weaken the race barrier in the South.

The depressing word in the previous sentence, unfortunately, is “weaken.” Nearly 70 years after the era of “Memphis,” we aren’t able to say that pervasive racism in the South (and the rest of the country) has been eliminated or even thoroughly defanged. The most optimistic spin we can take is that things are better than before. (No more segregated drinking fountains, at least.)

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‘Memphis’ continues at the Reedley Opera House through July 29. Photo / River City Theatre Company

Even more depressing: Racial issues are even more sharp-edged and glaring in 2018 than they were in 2010, when “Memphis” won the Tony Award for best musical. (If you’re into hashtags, this one would be #goingbackwardsucks.)

All this explains why the new River City Theatre Company production of “Memphis” at the Reedley Opera House — a central San Joaquin Valley community theater premiere — is a worthwhile outing. With stirring lead performances and rousing vocals, the show is inspiring.

It’s also uneven at times in terms of acting, staging and production values when compared to other community theater in the region. And there are elements of the book itself that can feel formulaic, something that was apparent in the original Broadway production. But the ambition and dedication on display at Reedley shines through.

Here’s a review rundown on the production, which continues through July 29:

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5 things to Know about Reedley’s ‘Memphis’

The musical opens Friday, July 6, at the Reedley Opera House

THEATER PREVIEW

I got the chance to slip into a recent rehearsal of the musical “Memphis” at Reedley’s River City Theatre Company. The show’s two stars, Camille Gaston and Jonathan Wheeler, sat down beforehand for an insightful interview that was part of the July episode of the TV version of “The Munro Review.”

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Camille Gaston stars as Felicia in “Memphis” at the Reedley Opera House. Photo / River City Theatre Company

In the meantime, here are Five Things to Know about the production:

1.

It’s a central San Joaquin Valley premiere.

That fact helped Reedley director Joseph Ham nab top-notch local talent for the show, which requires a diverse cast with powerful singers and actors. Gaston, one of the best and prolific performers on the local scene, jumped at the chance to play Felicia, the aspiring singer in early 1950s Memphis who dares to break through the color barrier with her new brand of rock ‘n’ roll.

Continue reading “5 things to Know about Reedley’s ‘Memphis’”