UNIVERSITY PARK - Penn State alumni Keely Beirne and Colin Byrne are headed back to their old stomping grounds via 1950s "Memphis."
Beirne, who graduated from Penn State University in 2013, and Byrne, who graduated in 2004, are part of the national tour for the Tony-award winning musical "Memphis," which will take the Eisenhower stage Thursday.
New Jersey native Beirne is in front of the audience as part of the production's ensemble and is the understudy for the female lead, Felicia, while Byrne, who is from Easton, Pa., works behind the scenes as the tour's company manager.
In “Memphis,” club singer Felicia (Jasmin Richardson, at microphone) is trying to defy racial politics in 1950s America to become a famous singer. Penn State alumni Keely Beirne (at far left) is the understudy for the lead role on the current national tour.
Both talked fondly of their time at Penn State during phone interviews with the Mirror while on a tour stop in New Orleans.
"The community at Penn State in general is just wonderful, and I'll always bleed blue and white," Byrne said with a laugh.
Byrne was assistant company manager on a national tour of "Beauty and the Beast" before landing the "Memphis" apprenticeship.
If you go
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Eisenhower Auditorium on the Penn State University Park campus
Tickets: $62, $53, adult; $44, $35, University Park student; $45, $36, ages 18 and younger. Tickets are available at www.cpa.psu.edu, 863-0255, 1-800-ARTS-TIX or at the following locations: Eisenhower Auditorium, Penn State Downtown Theatre Center, HUB-Robeson Center Information Desk and the Bryce Jordan Center.
"'Memphis' is a wonderful show. The music is just outstanding. It was composed by David Bryan, who is the keyboardist for Bon Jovi," he said. "And the show itself is a story that will resonate with everyone in some way."
Actual events inspired the musical, which won 2010 Tony awards for best musical, original score and orchestrations by Bryan and book by Joe DiPietro for "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change."
"Memphis" tells the story of white radio disc jockey Huey Calhoun and his desire to bring the voice of a black underground club singer named Felicia to the American airwaves during the 1950s in Memphis, Tenn.
The story takes place over a number of years, Byrne said.
"The show definitely has its highs and its lows and it definitely has some things that will surprise some people in it, but it's a great story and it's a great musical," he said. "[The audience] can expect to laugh. They can expect to cry. They can expect everything. It's great. And they can definitely expect to tap their toes because, like I said, the music is just brilliant."
The show "tells a really honest story, I think, of what blacks and whites were like in the 1950s and how dangerous it was, and revolutionary it was," Beirne said.
The tour, which started Oct. 15, came back from a holiday break Jan. 3, and will continue until June 8, Byrne said.
About a week after performing her New York showcase with Penn State Musical Theatre, she found out she landed on the "Memphis" tour, her first, Beirne said.
She was "really shocked, but at the same time I wasn't, because I knew my training was so incredible that I felt really confident going into the audition and I felt really prepared and when I got the call it was like all my hard work for the four years that I spent at Penn State paid off."
"It's been incredible. I love it," she said of her experience with "Memphis" so far.
In the ensemble, Beirne plays a club dancer, a backup singer for Felicia and a teen. She has gotten to flex her understudy muscles, taking the lead in Syracuse, N.Y., she said.
Stepping into the role of Felicia takes a different approach.
"She's like a star and I really have to be, I don't know if the word is more focused, but I have to, there's no changing, you stay as Felicia, you have that mindset and you keep going and you tell her story and you go through that journey," she said.
"Whereas in the ensemble I get to play around more with my character because it's not so set in stone."
Going on as Felicia "was crazy," she said. "She has so many songs and so many lines, and I was just so happy to go on for her."
Beirne feels as if landing in "Memphis" brought her full-circle after having ambitiously auditioned for the Broadway show at age 17, she said, noting, "obviously I wasn't prepared or old enough to be in it at that point."
Beirne has claimed the song from the show, "Memphis Lives In Me," as a memento, feeling "it'll be a song that I'll hold on to forever, just like as a little special place in my heart."
Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.