Rock ’n’ Rolling “Memphis” Grooves at State Theatre
It’s common to see a group of friends and family support an actor returning to their hometown stage, but Keely Beirne of Manalapan will have more than just a handful of supporters when she returns to the State Theatre in New Brunswick for three performances of “Memphis.” She’ll have her own section! “Memphis,” which took home four Tony Awards (including Best Musical and Best Original Score) in 2010, comes to the State Theatre in New Brunswick for performances on Friday, February 7 (8pm) and Saturday, February 8 (3pm and 8pm). Tickets range from $35-$75.
The musical takes place in the segregated 1950s when Huey Calhoun, a young white disc jockey, fell in love with rock ’n’ roll and a black singer. Inspired by the real-life DJ Dewey Phillips (best known as “Daddy-O” Dewey), “Memphis”takes the audience inside a cultural revolution during a period in time in which popular music was changing the world. Filled with great rock ’n’ roll tunes, wonderful dancing, and a love story against all odds, “Memphis” is one of those plays that showcases the best of live theatre.
Beirne is one of the ensemble dancers and the understudy to the lead role of Felicia. The Monmouth County native attended Howell High School where she was a Dance Major in their performing arts program. She received her B.F.A. in Musical Theatre from Penn State last year, and is excited to have her first role in a touring production.
“My entire family is coming and all of my friends from high school,” said Beirne. “The State Theatre is actually where I used to perform my dance recitals growing up and my dance studio bought something like 50 tickets. It’s awesome! I’m so excited that my dance teachers growing up will get to see me.”
As a member of the ensemble, Beirne does quite a lot of dancing in “Memphis.” She also has the major role of ensuring that she is always ready to go just in case Jasmin Richardson (Felicia) is unable to perform.
“I always carry my scripts and score with me, and on long travel days I review and listen to the score,” said Beirne. “I’m lucky because the lead is my roommate, so if I do have any questions she’s right there. We also have about 4-hour rehearsal times whenever we are in a city for more than a couple of days.”
“Memphis” will take Beirne around much of the United States, including a night back at Penn State and several other locations she’s looking forward to, such as New Orleans and Alaska.
“I’m really looking forward to going to Alaska because I’ve never been there and would probably have never have gone if it wasn’t for this show,” she said. “It’s just so far away and they have such a distant relationship to Broadway and theater that I’m excited to hear the audience’s reactions.”
In addition to Beirne, “Memphis” has a distinctly New Jersey feel from the award-winning score composed by David Bryan. The Edison, NJ native is best known as the keyboardist and founding member of Bon Jovi, but is building a tremendous theatrical resume as well. Bryan won a 2010 Tony Award for Best Composer, a 2010 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music, and an Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Score for “Memphis.” Bryan and fellow Jersey native Joe DiPietro collaborated on “Memphis,” and also teamed up to co-write the off-Broadway hit “The Toxic Avenger” a few years later.
The “Memphis”cast includes Joey Elrose as Huey Calhoun, Jasmin Richardson as Felicia, Ramond Thomas as Delray, D. Scott Withers as Mr. Simmons, Avionce Hoyles as Gator, Jerrial T. Young as Bobby, and Pat Sibley as Mama. The ensemble includes Keely Beirne (of Manalapan NJ), Oyoyo Joi Bonner, Taylor Broadard, Sidney DuPont, Kenny Francoeur, Laurie Elizabeth Gardner, Daniel S. Hines, Kyshawn K. Lane, JT Mckenzie, Kaitlin Niewoehner, Jonathan Ragsdale, Jonas Shumpert, and Eddie Urish, with Erika Conaway as swing/dance captain and Jose Gonzalez as swing/assistant dance captain.
Beirne hopes “Memphis” continues her path to a wonderful professional acting career. “The goal is ultimately Broadway, but I would love to tour again,” said Beirne. “I’ve grown accustomed to the lifestyle and I like it. It’s fun and I enjoy going to all of the different cities. Either touring or Broadway would be amazing, but I’ve done regional theater before. I’m just concentrating on building my resume.”
A free pre-performance insights lecture will be presented one hour prior to show time before each performance at the United Methodist Church located at 323 George Street.