Leading lady in “MEMPHIS” talks about tour and telling history through music

Eleanor Dearman

Set in the 1950s, “MEMPHIS” tells the story of disc jockey Huey Calhoun’s decision to break racial boundaries by sharing rhythm and blues music with the world. Calhoun also falls in love with African-American singer Felicia Farrell, beginning a forbidden romance.

The Daily Texan interviewed Jasmin Richardson, who plays Farrell, about her time on “MEMPHIS”’s national tour.

The Daily Texan: What made you want to pursue musical theatre? 

Jasmin Richardson: It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I started to do theatre. I went and auditioned for “The Wiz.” I had always sung, and I’d always sing at church but never thought about acting. That really changed the course of my life, to be honest, and where it was going. 

DT: What was your reaction when you found out you’d been cast as Felicia?

JR: I was over the moon because I remember seeing the show on Broadway when I moved to New York. I loved it, so when I heard auditions were coming up for the tour, I was just praying to God that they would just see me. They actually came to a show I was in, “DreamGirls.” I think that kind of helped me a little bit, that they got to see me in a theatrical element.   

DT: What has been your favorite part of playing Felicia?

JR: My favorite part has been singing the music. One of the hardest things can be the most rewarding as well. It’s a tough ride but it’s all worth it at the end. It’s a world that I wasn’t born into, but I get to step into it every night. 

DT: Do you have a favorite memory from tour so far?

JR: We just had Thanksgiving, and we had a group of people who wanted to have a home-cooked meal because, obviously, it’s kind of hard to do that. We have to get catering. So our company rented out a house, and a group of people after the show drove five hours to the next city to get started cooking. They cooked, and then the rest of the cast went to the city. They set up this incredible space in the hotel, and they brought all the food from the house. The food was amazing. It reminded me of home, just to think about in that spirit of thanks — how they just went out of their way after the show. We were all tired, and they drove down and cooked, and it was just so beautiful. 

DT: What messages do you hope the audience leaves with walking away from the show?

JR: I hope the audience walks away knowing that it only takes one person to spark change, and in our show that person is Huey Calhoun, played by Joey Elrose, my leading man. His character believed in taking over rhythm and blues and jazz and that style of music, which was for African-Americans only. He took that music, and he thought he’d make the world hear it, and if you look at today, it takes one person to start a conversation, to get the ball rolling. 

DT: Why do you think it helps people to tell history through music?  

JR: Music makes messages like this more … I don’t want to say tolerable, but I want to say tolerable. It allows you to not get overwhelmed or so weighed down because some of these moments in our show and some of the underlying themes of our show are very heavy, even for a lot of people who were around during the time. My grandmother, when she came to see the show, it was very heavy for her because she lived through that — the racial inequality and racism. I think the music element makes it not so bad. You can have a little play with it but still get the message. 

DT: What has it been like trying to put yourself, through your character, in the place of those who lived through the civil rights movement? 

JR: It has been a physical, emotional [and] psychological fight. I had to do a lot of research to be true to the character and the show itself. It is very tough to do it every night, and it is humbling because if I think about all the people who had to endure those things to have the rights that I have today, it’s very serious, and I take it seriously.