Memphis is a musical written by David Bryan and Joe DiPietro. The story is loosely based on the life of radio DJ Dewey Phillips.

“Dewey Phillips was one of the first radio DJs to play black music on a white station. He was quite controversial for his time – very outspoken. He also was the first ever to play Elvis Presley on the radio. He was quite famous in Memphis and he used to hang out at all of the black nightclubs and discover new artists,” explained Dean Drieberg, director of StageArt’s production of Memphis.

The musical is centred around a character named Huey Calhoun.

“Huey falls in love with a black singer, which becomes very problematic, because it comes at a time of segregation and it was actually illegal to marry someone of a different race in America at that time,” said Drieberg.

When Memphis opens this weekend it will be the Australasian premiere and Drieberg expects the show will be new to most of the audience coming to see it.

Memphis won four Tony Awards in 2010: Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score and Best Orchestrations. It also won the Drama Desk Awards that year for Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Music and Outstanding Orchestrations.

Dreiberg saw Memphis in New York just after the musical had won the Tony Awards.

“ I sat down knowing nothing about it and I was completely blown away,” he said.

One of the highlights of the show is the incredible score, written by David Bryan, the keyboardist for Bon Jovi. Dreiberg admits he was surprised when he first discovered who the music was written by.

“The score is authentically ’50s. I think he’s really nailed it.”

For this Australasian premiere of Memphis Drieberg has deliberately stayed away from anything he vividly remembers from the original Broadway production. He has spent time researching the era, listening to music from that time and looking at archival photos.

“We’re doing the production very differently. Most of the ensemble get to play a little cameo part. I’ve really changed the pace of the show. I remember it lagged in a a few areas and I’ve really kept the pace of it going,” explained Drieberg.

The rehearsals have been met with standing ovations from those in the room.

“I’ve never experienced that before in my twenty years of being in the theatre!” exclaimed Drieberg.

Memphis logo new shows

Memphis requires a racially diverse cast and Drieberg says there is no shortage of suitable talent in Australia. The cast of Memphis come from a broad range of ethnicities, allowing more opportunities for people of colour.

While Drieberg admits that the casting is colour blind in some respects, he says the show is still cast respectfully.

“There are no white caucasian people with heavy tans. People of colour are playing people of colour.”

Dean Drieberg hopes that shows like Memphis will inspire young people of all racial backgrounds.

“Myself, as a person of colour, I would never see people of colour on stage, unless I was watching South Pacific or The King and I. Hopefully this will encourage more people of colour to take up training and theatre.”

Drieberg believes Memphis will appeal to a broad audience.

“It’s very entertaining, it’s moving, it’s funny – it has a bit of everything! … For teens through to seniors, there’s something for everyone.”


Memphis opens this week.

Strictly Limited Season Oct 6 – 28
Or call Chapel Off Chapel direct 03 8290 7000