You’ve probably never heard of him, but Dewey Phillips changed the face of rock ’n’ roll — and America.
He played rock ’n’ roll before it even had a name. He was the first radio DJ to play Elvis Presley. And in strictly-segregated 1950s Memphis, Dewey Phillips saw no difference between black and white.
Phillips serves as the inspiration for Huey Calhoun, the central character of the Tony Award-winning musical “Memphis.” And in the Croswell Opera House’s upcoming production of that show, Huey is played by Dan Clair of Canton.
Clair first saw “Memphis” when the first national tour came through Detroit. “I fell in love with the music and then with the storyline itself,” he said.
Huey Calhoun starts out as an aimless and uneducated white boy — “who made it almost all the way through to the ninth grade at South Side High,” in his own words — who’s spent most of his short life being fired from a series off odds-and-ends jobs. But Huey loves music, and more than anything, he loves the rhythm and blues he hears being played in the nightclubs of Beale Street, the heart of Memphis’ black community.
In one such club, he falls in love with Felicia Farrell, a talented young black singer. And that’s where the story of “Memphis” really begins.
“It’s a piece of iconic history showing what music has done for American society when it comes to racial segregation, and the impact that music has had,” Clair said.
Huey Calhoun is eccentric, quirky, and a bit of a loudmouth, but he’s also a character with heart, and his passion makes him likeable.
“Even though he can be big and obnoxious, there’s always an opportunity in the script to pull him back to the love story or to the things he’s passionate about,” Clair said.
Although “Memphis” is Clair’s first show at the Croswell, he will be a familiar face for many fans of the southeast Michigan theater scene. His credits include Clyde in Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s “Bonnie and Clyde,” the title role in Monroe Community Players’ “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” Claude in “Hair” at St. Dunstan’s Theatre in Bloomfield Hills, and Bobby Strong in “Urinetown” with the Avon Players in Rochester Hills.
An engineer by trade, he also owns a dance studio, Lighthouse Dance Company in Luna Pier, with his wife, Delle.
“Memphis” at the Croswell also features Toledo-born singer-songwriter Tatiana Owens as Felicia; Derrick Jordan of Toledo as Felicia’s brother, Delray; and Lydia Schafer of Toledo as Huey’s mother, Gladys. The director is Deb Calabrese.
“Memphis” opens Aug. 14 and runs for two weekends, with Friday and Saturday shows at 8 p.m. and Sunday shows at 2:30 p.m.
The Croswell is at 129 E. Maumee St. in downtown Adrian. Tickets range from $15 to $35 and can be purchased online at Croswell.org or by calling 517-264-7469.
If you go…
- What: “Memphis”
- Where: The Croswell Opera House, 129 E. Maumee St., Adrian
- When: Aug. 14-16 and 21-23, with Friday and Saturday shows at 8 p.m. and Sunday shows at 2:30 p.m.
- Admission: $15 to $35
- To buy tickets: Click here or call 517-264-7469