Memphis the Musical: Racial Taboos and Secrets

Type the phrase "interracial dating" into a Google search and more than 4.7 million results show up. Most of the first screen is about how to achieve such a relationship.

But back in the 1950s, it was a secret so taboo that no one wanted to talk about it, actress and singer Felicia Boswell says. "But it was happening."

The Tony Award-winning musical Memphis has built its whole story around one such secret -- a white DJ in the American South in the '50s falls for a black singer, played by Boswell.

Since January, the Montgomery, Alabama native has been filling in as needed on Broadway in the lead role of Felicia Farrell in Memphis and now she and the show are headed for Houston's Hobby Center, courtesy of Gexa Energy Broadway Across America.

In 2010, Memphis won four Tonys -- for Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Book and Best Orchestrations.

Boswell said she often thinks about what it would have been like to live in that time. "What I would like to believe to be true is, because my spirit is about everyone being allowed to be happy however they choose, that I feel like I would have been in that same vein of okay, there needs to be equality; there needs to be freedom. We need to have the right to vote, to go to the same schools.

"Granted, it would have been a lot more difficult to be as opinionated as I am, but because I am so opinionated and I am so about people being treated fairly that I can't imagine that I wouldn't have fought for our rights," she says.

Doing the story as musical theater, she says, enables them to get across some hard truths more easily. "It reaches more people on a broader scale as opposed to being just a heavy dramatic film or a big, lengthy book. I think when you incorporate music and all of the elements that come along with live theater, it reaches across the board from children to adults."

The music in the show includes "underground blues and soul, and rock and roll," Boswell tells Art Attack. "It's truly the heart of the South, the heart of Memphis, Tennessee; the music that you run into when you are walking down Beale Street and just happen to walk into one of the bars and there are the crème de la crème of the musicians in the city."

Boswell says she doesn't remember a time when she didn't perform. "I've been in the business since I was about five or six years old. My family had a gospel group -- my father and my sisters -- and we used to sing on a Christian radio station every Sunday morning. I don't know my life not performing."

She had just finished a national tour with Dream Girls when she got the call that Memphis was interested in her.

"I think that it is a necessary story to tell. It's a beautiful love story. People don't know about this part of that history, the love stories, the behind the scenes."

"They should come and see this show because it changes lives. It still touches on a very sensitive subject even still today. There's a parallel to my life even walking into a restaurant and being on a date with a Causasian man; even in 2011 it's still uncomfortable for some people. It's imperative our children know about our history and also to remind us of how far we've come and how much further we have to go."

Memphis will run October 25-30 at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For tickets call 800- 982-2787 or visiting www.broadwayacrossamerica.com/houston or www.thehobbycenter.org.

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