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'Memphis' star supports loving who you want to love

The last time Joey Elrose was in Indianapolis he understudied 8 roles as a swing in a touring production of “Rock of Ages” at Clowes Memorial Hall in April of 2011. Nearly three years later, he is returning, but this time as the star of “Memphis” which runs April 1 through 9 at the same northside venue on the campus of Butler University.

Joey Elrose in "Memphis"
Joey Elrose in "Memphis"
Jeremy Daniel
Joey Elrose
Joey Elrose
Broadway in Indianapolis

Elrose plays Huey Calhoun, a white DJ, in “Memphis” the 2010 Tony Award Winner for Best Musical. Calhoun, whose love of music makes him colorblind when it comes to playing and promoting what was called “race” music on the airwaves back in the ‘50s when segregation was still alive and well. Not only does Calhoun fall in love with rock and roll, which many considered to be devil's music, he also falls in love with a beautiful and talented black girl, which was also a taboo at the time.

“Memphis,” which is in essence a story about a cultural revolution that took place when music was changed forever, features a score with music by Bon Jovi’s founding member and keyboardist David Bryan and lyrics by Bryan and Joe DiPietro who also penned the musical’s book. The show is based on a concept by the late George W. George with direction by Tony nominee Christopher Ashley and choreography by Sergio Trujillo.

Elrose holds a B.F.A. from Adelphi U. and is a native of Queens, N.Y. His other credits include a national tour of “Grease,” “Rent” at Welk Resort, “Pajama Game” at Starlight CLO and “Babes in Toyland” at Lincoln Center.

Recently Examiner.com spoke by phone with Elrose who was calling from Jacksonville, Fla., a stop on the “Memphis” national tour.

How long have you been on the tour and when did it start?

We started in New York with rehearsals in September and we opened October 16 in Appleton, Wisconsin.

How many cities have you visited since then?

I don’t even know the number of cities we’ve done. We’ve been told we are going to do about 60-65 cities over the course of 33 weeks. We have had some week long sit, some splits and even some one-nighters

Do all the cities blur together after a while?

What really jogs my memory is if we stay at the same hotel. But the theater and more so the dressing rooms are really what stick out in my mind. A lot of the houses have red seats or blue seats or something like that, but the dressing rooms are always different.

Besides your current show and “Rock of Ages,” I see you have also toured in “Grease?”

I have been fortunate to be working since graduating college, to be making a living. I graduated college and moved to L.A. in 2008. In L.A. I was doing theater and rehearsing at night and working at a side job during the day. Then, in 2010, I got my first tour and have been working professionally ever since.

Tell me about your role as Huey Calhoun?

Huey is first and foremost such a good guy. He doesn’t see color like everyone else. He is beyond color of skin and is concerned about the person and who they are and he mostly sees what they create and the music of the time. He falls in love with the music and he falls in love with a soul singer along the way for her voice and for her personality. She is a strong woman and he loves that and his mission is for the world to hear this music and then specifically to make her famous and to show the world who she is. So, you can imagine in the 1950s the danger that comes along with an interracial relationship being frowned upon back then. Then there is the danger that comes along with him being the first DJ to play race music in on the radio and doing this thing that no one has ever done. He is really rocking the boat. All the kids love the music and how it makes them feel and it makes them feel rebellious. And their parents don’t like it.

How do the “Memphis’” themes resonate with you personally?

I have always been an advocate of loving who you want to love, a belief that resonates in today’s world with the GLTB community. I am not a member of the GLTB community but I have best friends who are and I am a big advocate for love and for just being a good person. I would fight for and have fought for and have spoken up for my friends.

What kind of feedback do you get from the show?

The theaters sometimes set up Q & As with the audiences and we love talking to people after the show. It ranges. A lot of people don’t know the musical. It won the Tony Award in 2010 but it doesn’t have a big name like “Phantom of the Opera,” “Wicked,” “Million Dollar Quartet” or “Jersey Boys.” It’s a great rock and roll musical though. People love the music. The younger generation of college or high school age, say “wow, this sort of thing actually happened?” A lot of people are touched and affected by it.

I take it you are living your dream of being a performer, are you not?

Absolutely. Sometimes I stand on stage and am awestruck. I think “this is actually me and this is actually happening” and “I am so blessed.” I’ve had tons of support from my family since I can remember. You know some people want to be a star and want to be famous and that would be amazing. Some people want to do art for themselves. I think I am a good mix. I just want to be able to raise a family and survive doing this and a national commercial or something like that would be cool too.

Tell me about life on the road. Does it ever get old? Do you like living out of a suitcase?

It definitely has its challenges but it has its high points as well. A couple of high points are getting to see the country on someone else’s dime, getting to eat the local cuisine and visiting places like Kalamazoo, Michigan, where I would never find myself in a million years. Right now I am sitting in the Museum of Science and History in Jacksonville, waiting to go to the planetarium with a couple of cast members here. We love doing things like this and experiencing the local flavor and seeing museums and art exhibits. We have been going since October with only three weeks of break and will continue through June. I miss my family. We Skype and things like that or they come out. They came to New Orleans when we were there last week for a couple of days.

Are you married and do you have kids?

I have a very serious girlfriend. She’s pretty much the one. It has been six and a half weeks since I’ve seen her. There’ll be another two weeks and then I’ll fly her out. She’s an actress and very blessed to be doing that. She’s extremely talented. Her name is Coleen Hayes. She did the first national tour of “Catch Me if You Can.” Since she graduated college she has been very lucky to have been working regularly in theater.

What’s next for you after this tour?

As a matter of fact, Coleen and I both have callbacks for “Annie,” the national tour. We wrote to the casting director and said “Hey, we are a couple. We would love to do a show together.” She worked with the casting director before. I auditioned for her a bunch of times so she is familiar with us and she knows we are a couple. We want Mrs. Hannigan’s brother and his girlfriend, Rooster and Lily, who are kind of the antagonists of the show. We are both very right for the show so we both auditioned. She got to do it in person and I did it on video and we both have final call backs at the end of this month. Right before we get to Indianapolis. We are going to fly out to New York for one day, do the audition and hope for the best. If that doesn’t work out I’ll be back in New York auditioning and I know something else will come along.

What can I tell my readers who are not familiar with Memphis, what they can expect?

They can expect a Tony Award Winning production coming to Clowes. They can expect to laugh a lot, have their eyes widened as they hear the most amazing vocals from some of these people and I think they can expect to shed a tear and be moved a little bit too.

Tickets for “Memphis” are available in person at the Broadway Across America Box Office downtown at 342 Massachusetts Avenue, Clowes Memorial Hall, The Old National Centre Ticket Office, online at BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com, or by phone at 800-982-2787.

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