All of which makes the second act — following the "complication" — kind of a wash dramatically. Why exactly doesn't the fast-talking, ambitious Huey want to move to New York, even when he gets a soft offer for a TV show? Purportedly, it's because he doesn't want to compromise by hiring white dancers. But, as Felicia says, he has standards because he can afford them. She can't. The takeaway moral: Huey is an jerk.
Meanwhile, the cast is dancing up a storm (choreography by Sergio Trujillo). They're also singing the hell out of Bryan's lame songs. No, this isn't one of those shows where you get to hear some of the music of the period, the records Dewey Phillips was playing — instead, you're getting anachronous pop music that doesn't even pretend to model itself on the period except for a bit of gospel. There are some great scenic moments — like one of Huey's first spins as a DJ turning into a live trio of singers in gold suits dancing at the center of a spinning 45 above the stage, or a Screamin' Jay Hawkins pompadour'd figure entering from the wings on a slide.
But the songs and their rhymes are pedestrian. When Huey sings his big "Memphis Lives in Me" number, it's hard not to think: Bon Jovi power ballad.
The one dramatically satisfying musical moment comes when Huey's mama, Gladys (also Elvis's mother's name), in act 2, sings "Change Don't Come Easy," about how she discovered the beauty of black church singing. And then Julie Johnson, as Gladys, tears into the most fiery gospel number of the night, letting her voice rip and roar. She's enacting the very change she's singing about, a white woman whose prejudice has been transformed by the music she's just said no white person can approximate. Played for laughs, and, okay, not the most original story, either — but for a change, the actor isn't undercut by the song, and the character has an actual arc that makes sense. The other characters are stranded.
Memphis, originated at the North Shore Music Theatre in 2003; its handful of 2010 Tonys included Best Musical. At the Colonial, the audience cheered heartily.
Memphis :: Colonial Theatre, 106 Boylston St, Boston :: Through December 23 :: $34-$129 :: 866.348.9738 or boston.broadway.com