Growing up in New York, Joey Elrose was surrounded by theater. When Elrose played the Tin Man in "The Wizard of Oz" in the sixth grade, he knew he wanted to become a professional actor.
Elrose will play Huey Calhoun in "Memphis," the musical set to play out live this Thursday, Oct. 24, at Stephens Auditorium in Ames.
Calhoun is a disc jockey who plays “race music” back in the 1950s.
A fictional story, "Memphis" is loosely based on a real disc jockey from the 1950s named Dewey Phillips. Phillips was the first to play Elvis Presley and African American rhythm and blues on the radio.
"Memphis" is about Calhoun and his love for “race music.” Huey breaks into a radio booth in town and locks himself inside and starts playing the music he wants to hear.
The 1950s rock 'n’ roll rhythm, which was not normally played on the radio, is requested by the young teenagers and Calhoun's career as a disc jockey takes off.
“[Calhoun's] a rebel — let’s just start there — but not in a bad way where’s he’s got guns in a place. He’s really strong-minded, and he’s a go-getter,” Elrose said. “So if he wants something, he’s going to do everything in his power to get it. Even if he has to break the rules a little bit. “
Huey also finds himself falling in love with a black soul singer named Felicia Farrell after hearing her sing at Delray’s, an underground African American bar.
Interracial relationships were not a common occurrence during the 1950s, and Calhoun and Farrell struggle to keep their relationship strong.
“The message of the show is about equality and love. It’s still really relevant and still vital unfortunately,” Elrose said. “The show really does speak to social acceptance and equality, and maybe not necessarily with race anymore, but it’s still really prevalent in this kind of day and age. There’s a really amazing message we can get from it.”
"Memphis" is not the first tour that Elrose has played a lead role, but it is the first show where his character, Calhoun, never leaves the stage. Elrose credits it as being the biggest thing he has done so far.
“When I told my mother, she goes, ‘Joey, you’re finally a bride’ — you know the saying always a bridesmaid never a bride? — she goes, ‘You’re finally a bride,’" Elrose said. "I’m like, 'All right. That’s a good point, Ma.”
Elrose originally heard about the musical from a friend who had seen the musical and told him he should check out the show, claiming he would be perfect for the part of Calhoun. The auditions for "Memphis" were over the summer.
Elrose decided to watch a recording of the musical on Netflix, and he said he loved it and thought the musical fit his style.
“Later I found out, like a week ago when the casting director came out to see the show in Boise, [Idaho,] he said, ‘The minute you sang that song from the show I turned to the other people and I said, 'We just found our Huey.’ I hope that’s true, you know,” Elrose said.
This is his first year touring with "Memphis." The tour began Tuesday, Oct. 15, in Appleton, Wis., and will continue until June. This week, the tour will hit Cedar Falls, Ames and White Water, Iowa.
It is not confirmed how long the show will tour after this year, but there is a possibility of another tour after this one finishes in June. Also, rumors of going to Japan and Europe are being tossed around the touring musical.