Arts Feature

Memphis Tells Story of Music Crossing Color Lines

Broadway in Columbia Show Coming to the Koger Center

By Anne Postic
Wednesday, January 1, 2014
Jasmin Richardson as Felicia and Joey Elrose as Huey in Memphis. Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Some of us (ahem) love musical theater. We like to leave the show tapping our toes and, off-key or not, humming our favorite numbers. And, yes, we realize the rest of you find this annoying — which is why we try to keep our behavior in check, indulging only on solo car trips or in the shower. When no one else is home, we might even try a few dance moves, just to see what we can do. Set in 1950s underground dance clubs, Memphis is sure to inspire this kind of behavior.

The Broadway in Columbia show — driven by Tony-winning tunes (Best Original Score, 2010) and inspiring dance numbers — comes to the Koger Center Jan. 7 and Jan. 8 at 7:30 p.m.

And who’s responsible for putting together these dance moves? Former Columbia City Ballet dancer Jermaine Rembert, at least in part.

Rembert, associate choreographer for Memphis, began his dance career in Sumter at the Freed School of Performing Arts, and later danced with Columbia City Ballet, at Carowinds and Walt Disney World, and on Broadway.

“I love that it’s fun, sexy, playful and there is a lot of it,” Rembert says of the choreography in the show.

Memphis is a show for audiences who love singing and dancing. But unlike many musicals, this one has a story worth following. While the music and dancing are upbeat, Memphis depicts a time that was far from perfect.

Throughout history, young people have embraced change before their older counterparts, and, in some cases, this begins with music. Set in the 1950s, the show — which ran from 2009 to 2012 on Broadway — tells the story of Huey Calhoun, a white radio personality and black music enthusiast, and Felicia Farrell, a talented black singer. Calhoun (based loosely on the real Dewey Phillips) is one of the first white DJs to play black music. Calhoun just wants to play the music he loves, including the music of the woman he comes to love. Sounds simple, right?

“I love the story and the music,” Rembert says. “This show talks about a time in our history that some people are starting to forget about or don’t know about. I also love that it’s a show for everyone from adults to kids. I hope the Columbia audience enjoys every aspect of Memphis as I do.”

The music and choreography drive the story. This is Rembert’s second time working with choreographer Sergio Trujillo; they first worked together on the national tour of All Shook Up, a show featuring the music of Elvis Presley.

“I was happy to get the chance to work with him again, even happier when he asked me to be part of the pre-production process,” Rembert says. “I like the way Sergio always has a different take on his work. He considers the time period of the show, the style of dance and age of the characters, and he really takes into account how the choreographer will help tell the story.”

Every musical is an escape for the audience. After all, most of us don’t respond to conflict with crowd-pleasing harmonies and vivacious group dance routines (though maybe some of us would, if we only had a little more talent). The score and choreography of Memphis take the audience away, while the story is a reminder of a history they shouldn’t forget.

Those of us who understand the joy of musical theater already have our tickets. During what can be a slow time for the arts in Columbia, perhaps the rest of you should jump on the bandwagon, and enjoy a show that’s about more than rousing choruses and high-kicking chorus boys. See you at the Koger Center — and I promise not to sing until I reach the privacy of my own car. 

Show times are 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 7 and Jan. 8 at the Koger Center (1051 Greene St.) Tickets range from $47 to $58. Call 251-2222 or visit to order.

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