Where All The Streets Are Paved With Soul: Musings on the Final Performance of Memphis – August 5, 2012

As I had stated in a previous blog entry, the final performance of a play or musical is always a highly emotional experience for both the cast as well as the audience in attendance – the cast always give their heart and soul to that final performance, and the audience always shows their appreciation, so while there is a lingering aura of sadness in the theater, there’s also a comforting blanket of joy. Such was the case for the final performance of Memphis, which ended its almost three-year run at the Shubert Theatre on August 5, 2012.The closing notice had been announced a few months beforehand, with buy-one-get-one free ticket discounts advertised for those few months; nevertheless, I bought my ticket that morning via the TKTS booth in Times Square, obtaining a rear orchestra (right) seat.

As Sunday matinee performances began at 3PM, I made my way to Shubert Alley (after a brief stop to the American Airlines Theatre to purchase a ticket for the first preview performance of Cyrano de Bergerac) and I saw a small group of fans lingering around the stage door to the Shubert Theatre. Many fans carried souvenir posters and had their cameras at the ready, and there was one young woman carrying a large bouquet of long stem red roses, which she handed to each cast member as they arrived at the theater. Some cast members, including leads Adam Pascal, Derrick Baskin, and J. Bernard Calloway lingered outside signing posters, posing for photos and generally chatting with those waiting outside, which I though was a sweet and generous thing to do. There were also signs of appreciation and thanks taped to the metal barricades that were often set up around the stage door, which was also a sweet and generous thing to do.

Some fan-made signs of appreciation and thanks.

Prior to this final performance, I had seen Memphis twice before (both times via the annual Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Flea Market & Auction), once with the original lead Chad Kimball in 2010, and the other time in 2011 with the current lead Adam Pascal. The basic plot of the show is of the burgeoning relationship between an aspiring white DJ and an aspiring black singer in 1950s Memphis and the advent of rock ‘n’ roll music played on mainstream radio.

There were waves of applause and cheering throughout, as typical for a final performance, not only at the end of songs, but also for the entrances of each of the main cast. The cast gave it their all for the last time, and were rewarded with rousing standing ovations after most of the musical numbers. After the curtain calls, Montego Glover step forward to thank the audience for their support and introduced to the stage several cast alumni as well as much of the creative team – composer/lyricist David Bryan (who is perhaps best known as being the keyboardist for the band Bon Jovi), co-lyricist and book writer Joe DiPietro, and choreographer Sergio Trujillo, which was suitably followed by a jubilant encore of “Steal Your Rock ‘N” Roll”.

“Never let anyone steal your rock ‘n’ roll!”

The stage door was expectedly teeming with fans wanting to give the cast their thanks and appreciation, as well as the usual playbill signing and photo opportunities. Despite the heat and humidity, the crowd outside the stage door, (which exits out into Shubert Alley) remained and giving rousing cheers as the cast came out to greet the fans. There were conversations aplenty, hugs and well wishes for all – there was such an outpouring of love and appreciation, the cast seem overwhelmed. All in all it was a thrilling experience and a fun afternoon at the theater. Memphis does live on, as it is currently on tour, and also on DVD, as the show was professionally filmed last year with the original cast. Hockadoo!

Final performance signed playbill


Broadway in Bryant Park 2012: Ghost the Musical, Cirque du Soleil: Zarkana, Sister Act, Memphis & Wicked – July 19, 2012

Broadway in Bryant Park is a free event held for six consecutive Thursday afternoons in July and August which features performances from four to five different Broadway and Off Broadway shows, presented by 106.7 Lite FM, a local NY radio station, and hosted by one of their radio personalities. As it is a free event, and the fact that Bryant Park is a public park, there is no assigned seating (or formal arranged seating for that matter) and you would need to get there early to ensure you have a good view of the stage. Naturally (as my wont) I arrived at Bryant Park hours before the event started and set up my own chair as close to the stage as I could on the lawn (there is a gravel area in front of the grassy area where chairs and tables were set up for the press and reserved seating for the VIPs, which were usually contest winners or employees from the sponsors).

The weather was overcast and pleasantly breezy, a sharp contrast to the heat and humidity that had been lingering in the past few days. The chairs for the general seating area were set up shortly after I arrived, lined up in rows of six with space for walking aisles; thankfully where I had situated myself was compliant with the seat arrangement. By 10:30 the seats began to fill with families, couples and individuals, and the sound check commenced shortly before 11AM. As it was quite an overcast morning, the threat of rain was omnipresent; in fact there were a few minutes of misty rain, which caused the stage technicians to scramble to cover up the electrical equipment (thankfully the rain didn’t return until later on that evening).

The shows that were scheduled to perform were Ghost the Musical, Cirque du Soleil: Zarkana, Sister Act, Memphis and Wicked, and often at these events, the understudies, standbys or ensemble members perform, though occasionally the leads do perform. Each show performs a few songs from their respective shows (though in the case of Cirque du Soleil: Zarkana, the cast performed scenes from their show). The 106.7 Lite FM host was Christine Nagy.

106.7 Lite FM host Christine Nagy

First to perform was Cirque du Soleil: Zarkana, currently playing at Radio City Music Hall until September 2, 2012, and is about a magician in search of his lost love. As with most Cirque du Soleil shows, the performance featured flag throwers (Federico Pisapia, Vincenzo Schiavo, Giuseppe Schiavo and Marco Senatore) and a pair of clowns (Larry Wayne Wilson and Daniel Passer) performing a humorous sketch involving bouncy (and not-so-bouncy) balls. Several other cast members (Jason Nious, Jeremie Robert, Michael Duffy and Tom Cholot) and musicians (Keith Paraska, and Peter Fand) wandered about the crowds as well.

Cast of Cirque du Soleil: Zarkana:
Flag Throwers – Federico Pisapia, Vincenzo Schiavo, Giuseppe Schiavo and Marco Senatore
Clowns – Daniel Passer & Larry Wayne Wilson

Next to perform was Wicked, currently playing at the Gershwin Theatre, and tells the back story of Elphaba and Galinda, who would later be known as (respectively) the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz. Standbys Donna Vivino and Kate Fahrner perform three songs: Donna Vivino sang “The Wizard and I”, Kate Fahrner sang “Popular” and both sang “For Good”.

Top (from left to right): Donna Vivino & Kate Fahrner
Bottom: Kate Fahrner & Donna Vivino

Next was Memphis, currently playing at the Shubert Theatre until August 5, 2012, and tells the story of Huey Calhoun, an aspiring white DJ and Felicia Farrell, an aspiring black singer in 1950s Memphis and how (to paraphrase the show’s marking tag line) his vision and her voice gave birth to rock ‘n’ roll. Ensemble members Kevin Massey and Dan’yelle Williamson perform three songs: Kevin Massey sang “Music of my Soul”, Dan’yelle Williamson, sang “Colored Woman”, and as this was be the last time the show would perform, both sang a medley of songs, which included “Steal Your Rock  ‘N’ Roll”, “Underground”, “Radio”, and “Love Will Stand When All Else Falls”.

Cast of Memphis: Kevin Massey & Dan’yelle Williamson

Next was Sister Act, currently playing at the Broadway Theatre until August 26, 2012, and is based on the movie of the same name. Standby Rashidra Scott, along with ensemble members Alena Watters, Lael Van Keuren performed two songs: “Fabulous, Baby!” and “Sister Act”.

Cast of Sister Act (from left to right): Alena Watters, Rashidra Scott & Lael Van Keuren

The final performance of the afternoon was Ghost the Musical, currently playing at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, and is based on the movie of the same name (and interestingly enough both Sister Act and Ghost the Musical both have Whoopi Goldberg in common).Leads Richard Fleeshman, Caissie Levy, Da’Vine Joy Randolph performed three songs: Richard Fleeshman and Caissie Levy sang “Here Right Now”, Richard Fleeshman sang a guitar-rich version of “Unchained Melody” (and had some initial technical difficulty with his guitar) and Da’Vine Joy Randolph sang “I’m Outta Here”.

Cast of Ghost the Musical: Richard Fleeshman, Caissie Levy, Da’Vine Joy Randolph

I don’t recall when the Broadway in Bryant Park concert series began, but it’s another great (free) way to listen and see a sample of shows that are currently on Broadway (though three of this week’s five shows are scheduled to close within the next two months)*. Sometimes upcoming shows are also included in the series, which gives those shows an opportunity to present a sample of what is to come next season. It’s also a great way to spend a lunch hour listening to great theatre actors sing great songs.

*Updated 07/24/2012 – It was announced that Ghost the Musical would be closing August 18, 2012.