One of my favorite things to do back home was attend concerts and performances at such great venues like the Kennedy Center, Arena Stage, and the Howard Theatre.
I knew Memphis was famous for music, especially the blues, but had not heard much about the arts scene here. I was pleasantly surprised when I took my first foray into Memphis arts when I attended Theatre Memphis’ production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” this past Sunday.
First, I must thank my buddy, Dante, who is a member of the ensemble (he’s a knife in the Be Our Guest scene), for hooking me up with a comp ticket. I was fully prepared to pay the $30 for a musical ticket ($25 for dramas and comedies), and after having seen it I can tell you what a steal that is! Theatre Memphis, which is celebrating its 97th year this year, has two stages: a 100 seat black box theatre called the Next Stage, and a 411 seat, proscenium Lohrey Stage, which is the stage for “Beauty and the Beast.” If there was a bad seat in the house, I wasn’t able to tell. This intimate theater packed a big show and almost made you forget that you weren’t on Broadway!
I don’t want to spoil the show, but I will say hands down it is one of the best I’ve ever seen. The actor who played the female lead Belle—the talented Ashley McCormack—had a physical beauty that was only surpassed by her vocal beauty and strong acting skills. This was highlighted in her Act II song, A Change in Me, where the audience was just left mesmerized by the ending. One of the most touching scenes was between Belle and her eccentric inventor father, Maurice, played by actor Barry Fuller. Their duet No Matter What didn’t leave a dry eye in the house, and is what, I imagine, most fathers and daughters express to each other in their relationship. Equally strong in music chops and comedic timing was Gaston, played by actor Philip Andrew Himebook, who will be forever remembered for his self-entitled (pun intended) musical number, Gaston.
It may be a little cliché, but there really is no business like show business. From the acting, the lights, the terrific costumes (I mean, just how does a human transform to become a clock, candelabra, teapot and cup, or an armoire and actually make it believable?), and the music, it was truly an enjoyable afternoon that didn’t make me miss those bigger venues back home.
Of particular note though is that Theatre Memphis is community theatre, which means not one of the actors is paid one red cent for what they do, which just speaks to the amazing energy, work ethic, and talent these folks have. You wouldn’t be able to tell, but the thing that comes through in their performance is their love for putting on a show, which I strongly suggest you go see before it closes September 25th. I promise you won’t regret it.
By the way, flipping through the program lets me know that there are some great and exciting things coming up on the arts scene here. There were ads for the seasons of Opera Memphis, Ballet Memphis, Playhouse on the Square, and the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, just to name a few. I am going to clearly enjoy my time here and getting out to see and hear some of the great offerings. Hope to share more about that with you soon!