Dewey Phillips was a radio shock jock before the term existed.
Phillips, an outrageous on-air personality in Memphis, Tenn., and an irrepressible rebel, loved rhythm and blues so much that he fought the social conventions of the early 1950s to popularize the music.
Radio was as segregated as American society at that time. But Phillips, who was white, was the first to play what was then known as black music for a white audience.
The music took off, and rock'n'roll was born, along with the roots of the civil rights movement.
Flash forward more than 50 years, and Joe DiPietro used Phillips' life to fashion the character of Huey Calhoun — and a script for “Memphis,” the 2010 best-musical Tony winner. The Broadway tour arrives at the Orpheum Theater Tuesday for an eight-show run.
“I took the germ of Dewey's life, added elements of other DJs of the time, and created a fictional story that tells the tale of a rock'n'roll rebel who breaks down barriers,” DiPietro said.
Huey falls in love with Felicia, an electrifying black singer he discovers in an underground nightclub. Their relationship spells out the cost of segregation and prejudice, and the divided nature of the country.
The show's Tony-winning score was written by David Bryan, keyboardist for Bon Jovi. Phillips said he was thrilled to write with a genuine rock musician in shaping “Memphis.” The two collaborated on lyrics.
In Omaha, Huey and Felicia will be played by Bryan Fenkart and Felicia Boswell, who understudied and played the roles on Broadway.
Though DiPietro said the show's themes are important, he and Bryan sought first to entertain. “It's a rollicking good time filled with music and characters you care about,” he said. “That's actually at the heart of the success of 'Memphis.'”
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IF YOU GO:
What: “Memphis,” Broadway touring musical
Where: Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St.
When: Tuesday through Jan. 20. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Jan. 17; 8 p.m. Jan. 18; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Jan. 19; 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Jan. 20
Tickets: $25 to $95
Information: 402-345-0606, toll-free 866-434-8587, online at ticketomaha.com or at the Holland Performing Arts Center box office, 13th and Douglas Streets