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Christopher Jackson Moves Into Memphis

The popular actor talks about taking over the role of Delray in the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical.

By New York City
Christopher Jackson
(©Joseph Marzullo/WENN)
Christopher Jackson
(©Joseph Marzullo/WENN)
Christopher Jackson made his Broadway debut as Simba in The Lion King and played Benny in the Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights. In addition to his acting work, Jackson has written songs for will.i.am, Sean Kingston, LL Cool J, and Mario; released his debut solo R&B album, In the Name of Love, last year, and is composing songs for PBS' Sesame Street.

He is currently playing the role of nightclub owner Delray in the Tony Award-winning musical Memphis, now at Broadway's Shubert Theatre, for a limited engagement through February 27.TheaterMania chatted with Jackson about his role in the musical.

THEATERMANIA: How did your interest in Memphis come about?
CHRISTOPHER JACKSON: I've liked the show from the time my wife and I saw it. Afterwards, I told my manager that I would love to do it. I never thought it would happen and to jump in for a month is very exciting!

TM: What do you most love about the show?
CJ: I am from a small town in the south. My dad is black and my mom is white. Seeing Memphis through the eyes of music allows everyone some sort of redemption no matter what color we are. We all have a story and a point to make. Music destroys barriers and builds bridges.

TM: What were rehearsals like?
CJ: Crazy! Everyone was really helpful. I have always been in shows that had new people joining all the time, but this experience was new to me. To learn the show with just the stage manager and me was kind of tricky. Luckily, I had the opportunity to watch the show for a couple of weeks first.

TM: Did your predecessor, J. Bernard Calloway, provide any advice?
CJ: He did! He is such a powerful performer. But my approach is finding the truth as it comes to me.

TM: Delray is a club owner who aspires to become a music producer in the south in the 1950s. What is the biggest challenge he has to face?
CJ: His main challenge is to protect himself and his sister, Felicia (played by Montego Glover), and see that she fulfills her dream of becoming a famous singer.

TM: Why doesn't Delray initially accept Huey Calhoon (played by Adam Pascal) when he wants to help Felicia? Is it just because Huey is white?
CJ: Delray has encountered violence in his life. He is a club owner and has seen a lot, and to see Huey walk in and cross lines and boundaries -- Delray has a healthy amount of suspicion. He doesn't know if Huey is coming into the bar just to tear it apart. And you have to remember that mixing between the two races was not acceptable at that time.

TM: What messages do you think the musical sends about race?
CJ: I think it depends on your perspective. I want to see what questions the piece makes you ask in regards to how you look at race. The landscape has definitely shifted. In some ways, it's been a very rapid shift and in some ways, it has been limited.


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