It had been more than three years since Greg Twomey last took to a stage—a much acclaimed performance as Xanadu’s Sonny in Toby’s Dinner Theatre, Baltimore location—so the actor admits, he was somewhat off his game when he was cast as Huey in Toby’s current production of Memphis, playing at Toby’s Columbia location.
“It’s been a lot of work. It’s almost like I was back at school doing homework,” he says. “There’s been a lot of dialect work and tons of lines to remember, but it’s been so much fun getting into the script and making it come alive.”
Twomey admits that it’s not as if he wasn’t auditioning here and there over the last three years, but nothing really excited him the way that the character of Huey did, and he was determined to get the part.
“This role is larger than life and Toby [Orenstein] and Larry [Munsey] have been so supportive as directors and getting me on track. It’s been so great to be back,” he says. “I’m super thankful to have the opportunity to play such a role and enjoying it so much. It’s not like I can’t wait to audition for something else, I’m totally content with this role.”
For the uninformed, Memphis was the 2010 Tony winner for Best Musical, inspired by actual events from the underground dance clubs of the ’50s. The story follows Huey, a white DJ who became the first to play black music and Felicia, a black club singer hoping for her big break.
“I was so drawn to the content and the role. It’s touching to me based on where I grew up,” Twomey says. “It’s surprising how relevant it is today given it was based in the ’50s and yet now it’s 2014 and it still rings true in places. It’s sad. I really wanted to experience that and share that story.”
Twomey feels that if he was living back then, he would hopefully be the same type of person Huey is—someone diverse, open-minded, color blind, and able to say what he believes without a filter.
“The relevance in terms of the time period is super important,” he says. “The message of the story and the colorblindness is honestly the most important thing, but it’s not like you have to come hear people preach, people can come and have a great time listening to great music.”
Making the production even more special is the friendship he has formed with his leading lady—Ashley Johnson.
“We had never met before but from day one, we just clicked,” he says. “We’re like best friends now. We can have an open dialogue about anything and I think our chemistry is good.”
Closes November 9, 2014
Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia
5900 Symphony Woods Road
Wednesdays thru Sundays
“Sometimes I think we have too much chemistry,” she laughs. “It’s like we are a real life couple. He is awesome. Someone I completely trust. He’s one of those guys who if I was to forget 17 lines (knock on wood that I won’t!), I could trust he would pick up right where the scene should be. Our trust is what sparks the chemistry for us.”
Johnson of course is no stranger to Toby’s audiences, having performed in everything from The Color Purple (Squeak) to The Wiz (Dorothy) to Dream Girls (Lorrell).
When she first learned Toby’s would be doing Memphis, she immediately started preparing for the audition. “I’ve worked for a few years now, and I normally get cast in the younger, more energetic characters in shows,” she says. “I studied women and what the definition of a woman is, what separates a woman from a girl? That was my thought process as I was auditioning. Felicia has a sass that I don’t always get to show in my everyday life and I get to show that I can bring that part of me out.”
Johnson had only seen a DVD of a Memphis performance, and originally thought of the story as a modern Aida, with the mixing of cultures, and she loved that aspect of the story.
“When I got the script, I felt like it was even deeper than the actual Broadway production. Reading it was a lot more beautiful than I had thought,” she says. “I think this is a show that everyone needs to see. We are facing times of different racial issues and this is a story of the past but it’s not—it’s in the present and shows what the definition of love is.”