Phillips’ actual biography was too dark for Broadway and verisimilitude wasn’t playwright Joe DiPietro’s aim. Ask, and he wonders aloud if Rodgers and Hammerstein spent time in Oklahoma. It’s Memphis’ mythic quality that interested DiPietro, a prolific writer whose comic gem I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change has become Off-Broadway’s second-longest-running show. And Memphis’ interracial love story plays out like an R&B Orpheus set in the violently segregated South. DiPietro, who also penned the book for the Elvis-themed jukebox musical All Shook Up, says he didn’t want Memphis to sound like a “golden oldies” jukebox musical. Bryan’s blue-eyed soul won’t be mistaken for the sounds of Sun and Stax, but crowd-pleasers like “Memphis Lives in Me” still press the right emotional buttons, while more effective numbers like “Change Don’t Come Easy” tap deep gospel roots.
So, whatever it means, Memphis is here: Hockadoo!