Memphis – Ragtime – Finian’s Rainbow

Memphis – Ragtime – Finian’s Rainbow

I promised to write more about our New York weekend.

Of the four shows Thomas & I saw on Broadway, three had themes of racial discrimination.  It made for interesting comparisons,  although we didn’t plan it that way.

Chad Kimball as Huey Calhoun
Chad Kimball as Huey Calhoun

Memphis is a great new show, based on the true story of a radio disc jockey in Memphis Tennessee in the 1950s. Huey Calhoun (Chad Kimball) goes into a night club where the customers and the entertainers are all African-American. Much to his boss’s dismay, he starts playing their rhythm and blues music on the radio, and he falls in love with the singer, Felicia (Montego Glover). Of course, interracial romance is strictly forbidden and the rest of the show is about the horrendous challenges they face as a couple. The show is a cross between Dreamgirls, where the black singers struggle for recognition of their talent, and Hairspray, where the blacks aren’t allowed to appear on a rock and roll TV show. Memphis has great music, fantastic dancing and a heart-breaking story line.

Cast of Ragtime
Cast of Ragtime

Ragtime is the story of three groups: white upper class, their black servants and the poor new immigrants in America in the 1800s. This show has beautiful music as it weaves the three stories together. We won the seat lottery (you go to the theatre at 6:00 p.m., put your name in a draw, return at 7:00 and they pull names out of a bucket – if your name gets picked you get front row seats for $27 – which is a fantastic deal!) Unfortunately, sitting in the front row, it was difficult to hear the singing over the orchestra, so at intermission we moved back to some empty seats. It’s a beautiful looking show with a large cast in wonderful contrasting costumes, and the songs and voices are magnificent.

Jim Norton & Christopher Fitzgerald
Jim Norton & Christopher Fitzgerald

Finian’s Rainbow is an old-fashioned musical, which first appeared on Broadway in 1947, and then was made into a movie in the sixties. It is still very charming with a leprechaun popping in and out. The racial story must have been very new and even shocking when it first came out. Remember the TV show “Wings” that took place in a small New England airport? Remember Ray Biggins, the annoying fat guy who ran the competing airline? That actor, David Schramm, plays a bigoted white senator who makes life miserable for the black people in the fictional state of Missitucky. The new Irish immigrants cause more change with their arrival. Christopher Fitzgerald plays a delightful leprechaun – I saw him as Boq in Wicked several years ago on a visit to New York.  He is very entertaining.

Three very different, but excellent shows, all with a message.

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