The sound of love

Fe­li­cia Boswell as Fe­li­cia and Mem­ph­is Na­tion­al Tour Cred­it Photo: Paul Kolnik stu­ nyc 212-362-7778


The crit­ic­ally ac­claimed Mem­ph­is, win­ner of four 2010 Tony awards, in­clud­ing Best Mu­sic­al, Best Ori­gin­al Score, Best Book and Best Or­ches­tra­tions, is rais­ing the roof at the Academy of Mu­sic through Sunday.

And as if those awards were not enough, the mu­sic­al also boasts four Drama Desk awards, and four Out­er Crit­ic Circle awards.

The show takes place in the smoky halls and un­der­ground clubs of the se­greg­ated ’50s, where a young white DJ named Huey Cal­houn falls in love with everything he shouldn’t — rock ’n’ roll and Fe­li­cia, an elec­tri­fy­ing black sing­er played by Fe­li­cia Boswell.

“The ac­tion takes place on Beale Street in the heart of down­town Mem­ph­is,” Boswell ex­plained. “Fe­li­cia, who dreams of hav­ing her voice heard around the world, comes in con­tact with this quirky Caucasi­an DJ who prom­ises to help her pro­mote her ca­reer, and bring her voice to main­stream ra­dio and even­tu­ally achieve her dream.”

Ac­cord­ing to Boswell, ‘The two find love but also the dis­com­fort of be­ing an in­ter­ra­cial couple in the 1950s South where such couples could lit­er­ally lose their lives. Fe­li­cia wants to move up north to New York to be safe, but Huey is afraid to step out in this world he’s helped to cre­ate.”

Boswell, who grew up in the South and began singing when she was just about 5 years old with a gos­pel group headed by her fath­er, John Boswell, said that al­though she had no form­al train­ing she al­ways knew she’d grow up to be a per­former.

In­sist­ing she was just born with the abil­ity to sing, act and dance, over the years she’s ap­peared in many coveted roles in many stel­lar pro­duc­tions, in­clud­ing Dream­girls, Rent, AIDA, Bee­hive and more.

On Broad­way, she also un­der­stud­ied the role of Fe­li­cia un­til she was chosen to own the role for her­self in this na­tion­al tour.

Hand­picked by the show’s dir­ect­or, Boswell had been well on her way to star in The Li­on King.

“It had been ex­cit­ing to un­der­study the role of Fe­li­cia. I even ap­peared in the role on Broad­way sev­er­al times,” Boswell said. “But I was look­ing for oth­er op­por­tun­it­ies when the of­fer to play the role on the tour came along.”

Boswell had already signed to be in The Li­on King but bowed out when the na­tion­al tour of Mem­ph­is came along. “And the people at The Li­on King knew me and so were very un­der­stand­ing. I just knew do­ing the role of Fe­li­cia was where I was sup­posed to be and what I was sup­posed to be do­ing.”

And maybe, Boswell offered, that fa­tal­ist­ic feel­ing could be the fact that she and the “oth­er Fe­li­cia” have so much in com­mon.

“To be­gin with,” Boswell said, “We share the same first name. Also, we’re both from the South, grew up singing gos­pel mu­sic, re­cor­ded, and have both dated Caucasi­an men.”

Ad­di­tion­ally, she offered, “In the show, a ref­er­ence is made to Rosa Parks, who hap­pens to be my cous­in. Rosa and my grand­moth­er share the same ma­ter­nal grand­par­ents. Grow­ing up, I knew Rosa was im­port­ant but I nev­er real­ized just how im­port­ant she was. I re­mem­ber when this quiet, meek wo­man came to town, she’d stay at my grand­moth­er’s house, and my dad would take us over to see her and sing for her.”

But even without all the par­al­lels in their lives, Boswell is thrilled to be play­ing the role of Fe­li­cia in Mem­ph­is.

“This is a great role and a great op­por­tun­ity to be play­ing with such great act­ors in a won­der­ful com­pany,” she said. ••

For times and tick­et in­form­a­tion, call 215-731-3333.  


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