MEMPHIS, the 2010 Tony® Award Winner for Best Musical, and the show that’s currently blowing the roof off Broadway and other cities, opens at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, November 15, for a limited engagement. Among its numerous accolades, the critically acclaimed MEMPHIS won four 2010 Tony® Awards including Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Book, and Best Orchestrations. Memphis is a musical that’s loosely based on Memphis disc jockey Dewey Phillips, one of the first white DJs to play black music in the 1950s. MEMPHIS takes place in the smoky halls and underground clubs of the segregated 50s, where a young white DJ named Huey Calhoun fell in love with everything he shouldn’t: rock ‘n’ roll and an electrifying black singer by the name of “Felicia.”
Singer/actress/dancer Felicia Boswell stars in the lead role as Felicia. Ms. Boswell, who’s a native of nearby Montgomery, Alabama, brings a wealth of experience to the role. She’s performed in productions such as: the national tour: Dreamgirls (Deena, Lorell); Aida, Rent, Little Shop of Horrors and so many more. Felicia and the rest of the cast from Memphis will be arriving to Music City next week but we had a chance to chat with her during a rehearsal break while the show was in Tulsa.
TRIBUNE: You have the same first name as your character “Felicia.” Any similarities between you and the character other than the first name?
F. BOSWELL: “I don’t just like this role. I love this character! She’s a 1950’s blues singer, who dreams of having a recording singing career. She meets this fast talking, white guy who’s a dee jay name ‘Huey Calhoun” (Bryan Fenkhart). He convinces her that he can help bring her music to a white audience. This was a big deal because the storyline is set during the 1950’s amid a lot of turbulent times of that era for African Americans. The similarities to the character are that we both are from the Deep South. I’m originally from Montgomery, Alabama and just like the character; I also have a big dream of one day being a recording artist too.”
TRIBUNE: It sounds as if you were destined to play this role, since you have so much in common with the character.
F. BOSWELL: “There’s also another ironic fact. The late Civil Right activist Rosa Parks is referenced in the script and she was my cousin.”
TRIBUNE: Oh wow, that is really amazing! I know that you’re quite young but you have a chance to be around her at all?
F. BOSWELL: “I knew that Cousin Rosa was a great lady when I was a little girl but I was too young to fully understand her importance until I got a little older. I remember being around her when I was younger and she was just always so sweet and kind and unique. So yes, I sometimes really do feel as if it was part of my fate to play the role in this production…I almost didn’t take on this role. I was booked to play the role of ‘Nala’ in one of the The Lion King tours. So I really wasn’t available for this tour. I should actually be performing in Las Vegas right now in The Lion King production tour. But the director for the MEMPHIS tour was in NYC to do some auditions for the tour. I was in an understudy role at the time but I auditioned. I had to make a tough decision—should I let The Lion King role go with the Memphis tour? It was a hard call because Nala is also a role I’ve dreamed of playing too. But after all is said and done I think I made the right decision.”
TRIBUNE: When you auditioned for the role of “Felicia did you mention to the casting director that Ms. Parks is your cousin?
F. BOSWELL: “I didn’t really tell anyone about us being related until we were deep into rehearsals for the show. One of the aspects about being related to a person as great as Cousin Rosa is that people will want to ask so many questions about so many things. I wanted to make sure that I was ready to answer them with accurate information. So I checked with my aunts, uncles and other family members about various details who knew more about her than I did because I was so young when I was around her. But it’s a great honor to be related to her. I’m very proud that I’m a part of her family.”
TRIBUNE: I’m sure performing this show is exciting in any city but what is it like for you to be on stage in the show here in Nashville, especially since it’s the sister city to Memphis?
F. BOSWELL: “I’m so excited about performing in Nashville, as much as I was when the show was in the city of Memphis last month. Although the story is fictional, we hope that we are representing the people of Tennessee well…I won’t have any family members coming to the Nashville show but they will be in attendance when we stop in Atlanta. I used to live there and it’s really like a second home for me.”
TRIBUNE: Will this be your first time performing on stage in Nashville?
F. BOSWELL: “No it’s not. A few years ago I was the Broadway tour of Aida and Nashville was the first city I performed in after I became a part of the cast. That was the first time that I performed with a big equity company tour. I was just so excited. So yes, Nashville has a very special place in my heart. I didn’t get to see very much of the city but I do recall that it was a very pretty city. I hope this time I get to see more of it.”
TRIBUNE: What was the main break that took you from the more traditional world of growing up in the Deep South to now being a major Broadway performer? Those two worlds are far apart from each other.
F. BOSWELL: “Yes, they are quite different. First of all I want to say that I’m so proud of being a southern girl. I am just elated with my roots. But as I child I always had these big, big dreams for myself. I am now living and working in places that I used to only dream about. I have not had any formal training or lessons in singing, acting or dancing but yet that’s what I’m now doing. I do not encourage people not to attend school for training in the arts or any other profession, but in my case that was the route chosen for me. I’ve been very blessed and fortunate. I’m a Christian and I firmly believe in the scripture Proverbs 18:16 that states, ‘Your gift will make room for you and bring you before great men.’ That scripture is a true testament to my life.”
TRIBUNE: You’re now living out one of your dreams of being a successful Broadway performer. What’s another goal you’ve made for yourself?
F. BOSWELL: “One of the biggest dreams I have for my life is to be a recording artist. Singing is my first love, even though I also do acting and dancing. I started singing at three years old. I’m really praying that the door will open for the opportunity for me to become a recording artist one day. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love, love what I’m now doing with these Broadway shows. But it was always my heart’s desire to be a recording artist. I especially would love to record for music mogul Clive Davis.”
TRIBUNE: You are in an excellent position to get the attention of the producers in the record industry. Who knows, you might land a deal with Simon Cowell.
F. BOSWELL: “I will gladly accept that opportunity under his direction as well!” (LOL)
TRIBUNE: Why should people in Nashville come out to see the musical MEMPHIS?
F. BOSWELL: “I think everyone should come to see this show because it’s a very important story that needs to told and seen by people of all races. The storyline again is fictional, but it shows the audiences how much we’ve all progressed but yet we still have more ways to progress. And finally, the music in this show is just excellent!”
Playing November 15 through November 20 at the TPAC’s Jackson Hall. Performance times are as follows: Tuesday through Thursday evenings at 7:30 p.m., Friday evening at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 1:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Tickets go on sale, Friday, September 23, at 10 a.m. with prices ranging from $28-$70 and are available at the TPAC box office at 505 Deaderick Street (downtown) or the new Satellite box office in the Mall at Green Hills, located at the mall’s concierge desk, near J. Crew and Express. Order online by visiting tpac.org or by calling 615-782-4040.