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A real Felicia tackles the role of the fictional Felicia in Memphis

The musical Memphis rolled back to Seattle in September. Actress Felicia Boswell plays the African-American love interest, also called Felicia, of poor and white Huey, who fights to bring her character's songs to the "center of the dial" in 1950s radio.The struggles of dating across the color line, emphasized by the disapproval of both characters' families, serve to provide the dramatic tension in this largely uplifting musical about the power of music.
Felicia Boswell as the singer Felicia in the national tour of MEMPHIS
Photo by Paul Kolnik
Boswell recently chatted via email about the role and what she's learned about the "Memphis sound" since she started with this musical on Broadway. Memphis continues at the 5th Avenue Theatre through Oct. 7.

What's the key for you in understanding Felicia Farrell and her complicated relationship with Huey Calhoun?
I have always dated outside of my race. My boyfriend is Caucasian. Although it's a different time now, some people are still very uncomfortable with this. It was only maximized in that day and time [in Memphis]. You could literally be killed for choosing to love another color. So I understand her and their relationship in a very personal way, but of course not the same degree.

How does your character in Memphis stack against your previous roles such as Deena in Dreamgirls or Mimi in Rent?
Firstly, they all require and have required a lot out of me. All of them desire more in love, in life, in being accepted and appreciated. There's a little bit of each one of those characters in me but in Felicia Farrell, I'd say, there is a huge part of who I am. Lots of life parallels.

You started out as a cover for Felicia on Broadway -- what is it like "covering" for a role like this and does that hinder creating your own version for the tour?
It doesn't hinder at all honestly. The Broadway company carved out an amazing version of this show thus the success. Montego Glover created the role and a great outline. I have taken that outline and created my own Felicia Farrell. And I especially loved that our director, Christopher Ashley, gave the tour company the opportunity to build these characters on ourselves according to what we bring to them - not someone else. We all come from different places and offer different experiences to these characters, so no two people will every approach a character the same, I believe. We're different but equally strong in our choices.

On your website, you talk about Memphis being both a great musical and a great history lesson -- what did you learn about the music or the city after taking this role?
Well, being from the south and the heart of the Civil Rights Movement, I already had tons to pull from. I was exposed to all kinds of great music as a child and I loved everything. Of course, I have learned more about the history of blues in Memphis, TN, and Dewey Phillips, who is the character that Huey is loosely based on. And more about Phillips' contribution, as well as many others, to integrating music on the all white radio stations.

If you could only take one song from Memphis into future auditions, what would it be?
"Colored Woman," hands down!

And what musical role would you like to tackle next?
I'd love to play the role of Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard if and when it comes to Broadway. It's presently in rehearsals on the West End starring Heather Headley. Love her