Moonlight Amphitheater Season Opens With ‘Memphis’ Musical Launched by La Jolla Playhouse

Next Wednesday, Vista’s Moonlight Stage Productions will open its 41st summer season at the Moonlight Amphitheater with the Tony-winning musical “Memphis.”

This will be the musical’s first locally produced staging since its pre-Broadway trial run at the La Jolla Playhouse in August 2009. It will also be the first time the musical’s artistic director, Tony-appointed Christopher Ashley, will see a production. of “Memphis” directed by someone else. Director/choreographer Jeffrey Polk makes his moonlit debut with “Memphis.”

Ashley, who won a Tony Award in 2017 for directing the Playhouse-launched musical “Come From Away,” has already ordered her Moonlight tickets and can’t wait to see Polk’s take on the show.

“I’m excited about the new looks, colors and nuances that a different director and designers can bring,” Ashley said. “That’s what you’re hoping for as a director, for it to have a life that goes on and for new people to do new takes on the show. I’m thrilled that Moonlight is doing that, and I’m thrilled that it’s continuing.

“Memphis,” with a book by Joe DiPietro and a score by Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan, tells the factual story of how some progressive white Southern disc jockeys (including Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips) helped birth from rock ‘n’ roll to playing records by black artists on the radio in the early 1950s.

In the musical, fictional Memphis DJ Huey Calhoun falls in love with Felicia, a black singer in an underground black nightclub, sparking racial strife in the segregated city, as well as a debate over the looting of artists’ music. blacks by white singers and producers. .

“Memphis” was Ashley’s first show at the Playhouse after being named its artistic director in 2007. The 2010 Broadway production won three Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Score and Orchestration. It played 1,196 performances before heading to London’s West End for an 18-month run and has since been produced many times in regional, touring, summer, university and amateur productions.

Ashley said the musical seems particularly timely and popular now that the nation is undergoing racial reckoning over its treatment of black Americans.

“Race in America is such a central discussion, and I’m curious to see how it’s handled in this production,” Ashley said.

Actors Bryan Banville, left, and Janaya Mahealani Jones rehearse for Moonlight Stage Productions’ “Memphis.”

(Fred Tracey)

The creators of “Memphis” – writer, composer and director – are all white, but the director-choreographer of Moonlight’s “Memphis”, Polk, is black. He hopes to bring new perspectives to the show based on his own life experience and grounding in black music and church communities.

“There are some things I hope to bring, a little more authenticity,” said Polk, who has enjoyed a long career as a performer, musician, director and choreographer. “I grew up in a gospel choir, and although the creators did a great job with ‘Memphis’, I want it to feel like my childhood choir – where there was more joy, more feeling and more punch. I also understand the energy of the underground scene that he represents. As a young man in his twenties, I always went to clubs. We danced until dawn and never knew what time it was.

Polk grew up in San Bernardino, where he said there was no definite color line on local radio stations, which played everything from the Beatles to Aretha Franklin. It wasn’t until he visited his family in Texas as a child that he saw how more segregated life and music were in other parts of America.

“It was like waking up as a kid,” said Polk, who said directing and choreographing this massively cast musical was both a challenge and an honor.

“I respect what they’ve done and I think it’s brilliant and I thank them,” Polk said. “They honor black music in such a way that it’s clear in my mind that I can be honored to be a black man leading this.”


When: Opens on Wednesdays and runs until May 28. Showtimes, 8 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday. Doors open at 6:30 a.m. for picnics and catered meals

Where: Moonlight Amphitheater, Brengle Terrace Park, Vale Terrace Park, 1250 Vale Terrace Drive, Vista

Tickets: $17 to $61

Call: (760) 724-2110

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