Julie Johnson Takes a Broadway Train Back to MEMPHIS at the Fox Theatre

Posted on: Jan 31st, 2012 By:

Bryan Fenkart as Huey Calhoun and the Broadway Cast. Photo credit: Randy Morrison

By Jordan Barbeau
Contributing Writer

The Tony Awards are the theater equivalent to the Oscars – the most prestigious awards any production or stage actor/actress can earn. As huge of a feat as this is, MEMPHIS, a Broadway hit show about a boy with rock ‘n’ roll in his heart, easily did just that. With its emotionally gripping story and fun numbers, MEMPHIS had no trouble winning the award for Best Musical in 2010. Overwhelming praise from fans and critics alike, along with its earning of this prestigious award, prompted a national tour of the show, and lucky for Atlantans, it’s here at the Fox Theatre for a week run from Tues. Jan. 31 through Sun. Feb. 5.

Julie Johnson, a singer and actress from Texas, holds the distinct honor of getting to portray one of the more interesting characters in the play – the mother of the main character, Huey. Scared and staunchly against her son’s plans, “Mama” does everything in her power to keep her son away from “black music,” refusing to accept his love of the art. It can’t be a coincidence that she has the same name, Gladys, as the mother of Elvis Presley, Memphis’s most famous rock n roll son.

Julie Johnson.

Julie, unlike her character, fully appreciates and embraces the art of singing and performing. According to the actress, it’s been her destiny since she was a child to perform in front of people. “It’s almost like my DNA was in the shape of a microphone,” she laughs. One glance at the list of Julie’s past productions assures that no one is going to argue that fact. Besides being an accomplished solo artist, Julie has performed in plenty of Broadway productions ranging from SWEENEY TODD to CABARET.

Even to an experienced actress such as herself, one would think that performing in such a widely loved production in front of thousands of people a year would be intimidating. To Julie, this is apparently not the case. She says the fact that the audience already knows and loves the play makes it easier. “It’s like being an ambassador,” she says of bringing the once Broadway-exclusive show to those around the country. “You feel like Bruce Springsteen.”

It goes without saying that one cannot perform in a musical about 1950s rock ‘n’ roll without having some prior knowledge of the genre. It would be like a child trying to run before he learned how to crawl. Julie is no exception. W hen asked about the time period, Julie says that her favorite artist from the ‘50s is one of the most famous blues artists of all time, Mr. B. B. King himself.

Felicia Boswell (Felicia) and the Touring Cast of MEMPHIS. Photo credit: Paul Kolnik.

Huey’s mom may be a very close-minded character, but Julie does not fault her for that. In fact, she understands her fears, having grown up surrounded by similar feelings and thoughts. In the end, despite all of the initial hesitation to accept the change, Julie says that the music is what makes everyone and everything whole, allowing folks to do what seemed impossible – unifying a split time.

Fortunately for the people of Atlanta, Julie says that audiences here will connect with MEMPHIS even more than most, due to the city’s deep roots in black music. She adds that she has not had the opportunity to spend much time here in the great ATL, but when MEMPHIS comes to the Fox this week, Julie hopes to explore the city and see what she’s been missing!

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