Cain Park's 80th Season Kicks Off Tonight with 'Memphis: The Musical'


  • Courtesy of Theatrical Rights Worldwide
The heart of Cleveland Heights' summer experience, Cain Park, is celebrating its 80th season with a dynamic slate of events, kicking off tonight with the opening of Memphis: The Musical.

Directed by Cain Park Theater's Artistic Director Joanna May Cullinan, with musical direction by Jordan Cooper, Memphis: The Musical stars two of Cleveland's most talented vocalists, Nicole Sumlin as Felicia Farrell and Douglas F. Bailey II as Huey Calhoun.

"This piece is still all too relevant," Bailey, previously in the productions of Godspell and Rock of Ages at Cain Park, tells Scene. "It's important for today's audience to have the perspective of where we were as a society 60-plus years ago, but it is also important to remind ourselves that we have not come as far as time would make us think."

Inspired by actual events, Memphis: The Musical is about a white radio DJ who wants to change the world and a black club singer who is ready for her big break. Audiences will be taken along on their incredible journey to the ends of the airwaves – filled with laughter, soaring emotion and roof-raising rock ‘n’ roll.

In speaking with actress Sumlin, she tells us the show truly surprised her.

"In developing my take on Felicia Farrell and diving into this era of our nation’s history, I revisited my own family’s history in the South and reflected on my own experiences as an African-American," she says. "In doing so, I found myself giving voice to some truths that I’d not shared before 'in the room' while developing a piece — specifically reflecting on a relationship I had with a Caucasian young man when I was a teenager, with the pain of the ignorance and racism we experienced from his family."

And to share the sentiment of fellow cast member Kate Michalski, Sumlin's performance is one you won't want to miss.

"You think you’re ready to hear Nicole Sumlin? You are not ready to hear Nicole Sumlin," Michalski says. "You will hear Nicole Sumlin, and when it’s done, you will not have been ready to hear Nicole Sumlin."

The cast of Memphis: The Musical features 23 actors across multiple races and generations, creating a sound as beautiful as it is diverse. Director Joanna May Cullinan explains that because Cain Park is owned and operated by the City of Cleveland Heights, it was really important to her to choose a show that represents this community. "Memphis celebrates love, diversity and the arts; it’s going to be personal for a lot of people," she says.

Winner of four 2010 Tony Awards including Best Musical and two 2015 Olivier Awards, Memphis features a Tony-winning book by Joe DiPietro and a Tony-winning original score with music by Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, and Bon Jovi founding member, David Bryan. And Bailey and Sumlin both say they've learned so much working in this show.

"Building the world of this work allowed yet another opportunity to reiterate the importance of authenticity and integrity when portraying communities of color," says Sumlin. "This show let us shout out loud about how strong love actually is. Our society has come so far, but has so very far to go. I did not expect to be as challenged, impacted, and changed as I have been."

Continues Bailey, "I hope that this piece causes the audience to consider the current climate of our country. The events of the play occurred in the 1950s, and yet we have still allowed blind hatred to be so prominent. This story is ultimately one of love. Hopefully our telling of it will spread that love."

Memphis: The Musical
 plays at the Alma Theater at Cain Park until July 1st. Thursday-Saturday shows are at 7 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are available here. Cain Park is located at 14591 Superior Road in Cleveland Heights.

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