October 10, 2015
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Theater Review
Tony Award-winning ‘Memphis’ at PPAC
Don Fowler

The 2010 Tony Award-winning “Best Musical” is now playing at the Providence Performing Arts Center, only two years after opening on Broadway.

I talked with Texas born and raised Julie Johnson, who plays Gladys, the mother of a white boy who falls in love with a “colored” girl at a time when integration was struggling to succeed in the music business. Johnson had made her name playing both the roles of Patsy Cline and her right-hand person in the two shows about the country singer’s life.

“The role of Gladys came to me at a perfect time in my life,” she said. “I loved playing Patsy Cline, but I didn’t want to be labeled. Growing up in Texas, country music was always a part of my life, but our home was also filled with classical, gospel and rock & roll.

“We began rehearsals just over a year ago, and I’ve been on the road ever since. My 14-year-old son is traveling with me and I am home-schooling him. He loves history, so we can’t wait to get to Providence and Boston. The show is booked through May of 2013, so we will have seen most of the country.”

“Memphis,” according to Johnson, is one of those original Broadway musicals that was “built from the ground up. The music is all new. The writers started with an idea and slowly developed it into a great idea.”

Is it country? Is it rock ‘n roll?

Johnson refers to a Little Richard quote in the musical that describes the music of the fifties as “Negro blues sped up.”

From the underground dance clubs of 1950s Memphis comes a musical with explosive dancing, irresistible songs and an original plot about a white radio DJ and a black club singer and their forbidden love.

Once again, Lynne Singleton and his staff have won out in getting the latest and greatest Broadway had to offer.

“Memphis” is at the Providence Performing Arts Center December 4-9. Call 421-ARTS for tickets.

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