Center Stage closes out its 2017-2018 Season with SOUL The Stax Musical. This musical is inspired by the story of Stax Records and the rise of iconic artists such as Otis Redding, The Staple Singers, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. & The MG’s, Rufus and Carla Thomas, David Porter, Wilson Pickett, Johnnie Taylor, and Eddie Floyd and the old Memphis ‘Hot Buttered’ soul music that helped to create the very foundation of American Soul music.
Director Kwame Kwei-Armah does another bang-up job of capturing the magic of the Memphis Soul era from the late 1950s when a white banker from Arkansas played by Robert Lenzi as Jim Stewart founded Satellite Records in 1957 and bought an old movie house for $4,000 in the heart of the Black community.
SOUL The Stax Musical also celebrates how music played an expanding cultural role in bringing Americans together during the early years of the Civil Rights Movement, as Warner Miller in the role of visionary DJ and General Manager Al Bell, takes STAX records internationally and eventually runs it into bankruptcy with expensive promotions like the WATTSTAX Summer Concert in LA in 1972 done with Civil Rights icon Jesse Jackson.
“Playwright Matthew Benjamin was first drawn to soul music when he heard Otis Redding’s “Pain in My Heart,” which spoke to his own heart”, said Kwame the now out-going Artistic Director.
For history buffs the story of STAX rise in 1965 when local DJ Al Bell became the black face of STAX and produced their first hit with Rufus & Carla Thomas and Otis Redding followed a few years later with “Dock Of The Bay”
After a successful and ambitious European tour, tragedy visited the STAX family Otis Redding was killed in a winter plane crash in 1967 and the assassination of Martin Luther King a year later inspired STAX to integrate activism into their musical brand with the Staples Singer’s “RESPECT YOURSELF” hit the anthem of the WATTSTAX festival.
But it is the phenomenal cast that keeps the audience dancing in their seats with special performances from Allison Semmes as Carla Thomas; Boise Holmes as Isaac Hayes; Ricky Fante as Otis Redding; David LaMarr as Booker T. Jones; and Harrison White as Rufus Thomas the ‘World’s Oldest Teenager’.
But part of the unique experience of attending Center Stage is the total immersion in cultural icons like album covers and old vinyl records. Even youngsters such as Tamryn Taylor-Woods got caught up in the excitement at the lobby DJ’s table and grabbed the microphone and imitated Carla Thomas to the delight of her mother on Mother’s Day.
So ‘If You Like Soul Music’, you better motor up 95 to Center Stage and check out “SOUL The STAX Musical” now playing through June 10th. #SOULSTAXMUSICAL.