STORY WRITTEN BY RITA CHARLESTON
For Digital First Media
Walnut Street Theatre concludes its 206th season with Broadway’s Tony Award-winning musical, “Memphis,” running through July 12 on the WST Mainstage, 825 Walnut St. in Philadelphia.
Inspired by actual events, “Memphis” is about a white radio DJ who wants to change the world and a black club singer who is ready for her big break. The show features an original score by Bon Jovi’s David Bryan that evokes the powerhouse music of James Brown, Chuck Berry, the Temptations and others.
Christopher Sutton returns to the Walnut as Huey Calhoun, based on the real-life disc jockey, Dewey Phillips, one of the first white DJs to play black music in Memphis during the 1950s. According to Sutton, “my character is dirt poor, illiterate, and everybody thought he was crazy to go on the radio and play black music. But while listening to this kind of music one night, as well as the girl singing it, eventually he fell in love with both.”
“Memphis” opened on Broadway in 2009 to critical acclaim and ran through summer of 2012. The show won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score written for the Theatre, and Best Orchestrations. Additionally, it went on to win four Drama Desk Awards, and four Outer Critics Circle Awards.
Sutton, himself, is known for outstanding performances, having earned three Barrymore nominations, and one win for his outstanding performance in “The Buddy Holly Story” at the Walnut.
The oldest of seven children, Sutton got his start performing at the age of eight when he was in the third grade. He says, “One day my friend Jeff and I were set to do a clown routine in a Boy Scout show until Jeff suddenly got sick and went home. That meant I had to go on alone — and I did.
“I did a lot of improv and came up with some pretty cool stuff,” he continues. “And I loved every minute of it.”
Taking care of his younger siblings until his mother got home also helped Sutton perfect his reading and acting skills. “I would read to them and try to act like the characters in the books, using different voices. I think all that contributed to help making me decide I wanted to become an actor.”
Most recently, Sutton was seen in the Independence Studio 3 production of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” which he also directed. “I love all of it – whether I’m singing, acting, tap dancing or directing. I love the whole journey of telling a story and giving myself over to it for two or three hours. And every time one of my fellow actors speaks to me, I respond as if it’s the first time I ever heard the line. I think that helps keep it fresh for the audience and for me.”
Over the years, of all the shows he’s done, Sutton says two of his all-time favorites are “Blood Brothers” and “Me And My Gal,” with this production quickly being added to the list.
“There are elements in Huey that I can relate to, like trying to support their families in their own way, trying to gain a better life.” Sutton concludes. “And yet we are very different, so trying to play someone so different from you is one of the biggest challenges an actor faces – and I think one of the best rewards.”
IF YOU GO: Tickets for “Memphis” vary from $20 to $95. For more information, check www.walnutstreettheatre.org or call (2150 574-3550 or (800) 982-2787.