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'Memphis' musical takes page from rock 'n' roll history

February 11, 2013

From the underground dance scene of 1950s Memphis, Tenn., a story of love, music and acceptance emerged as a new sound was heard over the airwaves – one that would forever change rock 'n' roll.

Now, that sound and story have landed on the Broadway stage with the arrival of "Memphis" the musical.

Inspired by actual events, "Memphis" – winner of four 2010 Tony Awards, including Best Musical – tells the story of a white radio DJ looking to shake things up and a black club singer ready for her big break. Filled with music, dancing, emotion and laughter, the show has been described by the Associated Press as "the very essence of what a Broadway musical should be."

"Memphis" comes to ASU Gammage for a week of performances March 5-10. Buy your tickets now.

"The show is about the racial tensions America suffered in the 1950s through segregation laws," says Kyle Leland, who trains and coaches cast members as one of two dance captains. "The show centers around this white DJ, who puts race music on the radio in Memphis for the very first time, and a black singer with whom he falls in love."

Leland says the show is ultimately about acceptance – allowing people to be who they are and love whomever they choose.

"I know it sounds heavy, but there's also a lot of lighthearted storytelling," Leland adds. "The characters are lovable."

Leland started dancing at a fairly late age, 16; however, the Los Angeles native, now 25, soon was offered a full scholarship to the prestigious Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Of the training he received there, Leland says, "it was incredible. I can't beat the education I got there. It shaped my career for the rest of my life."

Also serving as a "swing" for the show, Leland fills in for other "Memphis" dancers in the case of an emergency. But he says his favorite aspect of being part of the show has been the opportunity to train newcomers.

"It's sad to see people who have been with us for a while leave, but a great part is to work with the new people before they join the show," he says. "I love the teaching process. I love that I get to bring the show to them."

Beginning March 5, Leland and the cast of "Memphis" will bring the show to a whole new audience at Gammage – it's a performance you won't want to miss.

For more information, or to buy tickets, visit the ASU Gammage box office.