From Cover to Lead, Felicia Boswell Destined to be in Memphis

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Felicia Boswell performs in the National Tour of Memphis at Atlanta's Fox Theatre.

Felicia Boswell performs in the national tour of Memphis. Photo by Paul Kolnik

After performing in the Broadway production of Memphis, Felicia Boswell comes to Atlanta with the national tour of the musical, which opens at the Fox Theatre on January 31, in a role she feels destined to play. Most recently in Atlanta, Boswell performed the role of Mimi in Rent at the Atlanta Lyric Theatre, where her performance was nominated for an Atlanta Theater Fan Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical and a Suzi Bass Award for Lead Actress – Musical.

Originally from Montgomery, Boswell did live in Atlanta for a short time before moving to New York, and she occasionally has come back down to perform. Returning to Atlanta, a city she says is like her second home, thrills her, and she is looking forward to seeing friends and family here.

“I am so, so, thrilled to be back in Atlanta; the Lyric is special to me, and to be able to come back and see the Lyric family,” she says before pausing. “I would love to spend more time with family and friends, but this role requires a lot of me, and I spend much of my free time recuperating.” That role is one she seemingly wasn’t supposed to play.

After appearing in the Broadway production of Memphis as a cover for star Montego Glover, Boswell was going to star in Disney’s The Lion King on Broadway as Nala. However, fate took her on a detour. She was offered the lead role in the national tour of Memphis around the same time, and she “chose Memphis, and the rest is history.”

During an understudy rehearsal for the Broadway production, the director of the national tour, Christopher Ashley, saw Boswell performing the role of Felicia, and he immediately wanted her to audition. The next day she met with him, and she was offered the chance to originate the role of Felicia on the tour.

Boswell feels that playing the role of Felicia is an opportunity she was meant to have. She closely identifies with the character, and that connection makes the role even more special to her. “With Felecia I feel like I was born to play the role,” she explains. “I don’t think I should be anywhere else.”

“I love her,” she exclaims. “Every night, it never gets boring for me.” The character of Felicia is an African-American blues singer in Memphis. “She is a strong, smart, witty and confident blues singer from the 1950’s who is fighting the racism of that time,” Boswell explains. 

Felicia Boswell (Felicia) & Bryan Fenkart (Huey) in the national tour of Memphis at Atlanta's Fox Theatre

Felicia Boswell and Bryan Fenkart sing and dance during Memphis. Photo by Paul Kolnik

During the musical, Felicia falls in love with Huey, a white DJ, and according to Boswell, she must face the “trials and triumph of dealing with an interracial relationship of that time.” While the musical’s main plot is a love story, the racial issues are a strong theme within the story. This theme, she explains, still has importance to our modern society.

“There is still racism in every corner of the world,” she comments before discussing that interracial relationships, as well as same-sex relationships, are still uncomfortable for many people. “We have definitely come a long way, but ignorance is still ignorance and racism is still racism. It is an important story for generations,” she says.

Not only does Boswell share the same first name as the character, but there are other connections to the character that she shares. Whether it is her own desire to be a singer or the fact she has been in an interracial relationship, many characteristics are similar for both. In fact, several of the songs she sings are emotional for her due to personal connections, and one such song is “Colored Woman.”

“The song epitomizes what an African-American woman of that day and time in similar circumstances would say. No stone is left unturned with my character in the story,” she explains. “I have to be very careful not to go off the cliff with that song. It would be hard to come back from because it is so real for me.”

Atlanta audiences will soon have the chance to see Boswell in the role she has now played both on Broadway and on tour. For those who may have had the chance to see her when she covered for Glover, this production allows Boswell to show her own interpretation of the character.

“Broadway has an amazing company and our show is just as amazing; we have fit things to our particular show,” she explains. “It’s not going to be Montego Glover’s Felicia, but it will be Felicia Boswell’s interpretation.” She goes on to give praise to her current and former co-stars who play Huey. “I have been on stage with Chad Kimball, who is phenomenal, and I have been on stage with Bryan Fenkart. He brings something different but equally phenomenal.”

See Felicia Boswell and the cast of Memphis when the national tour comes to Atlanta’s Fox Theatre. It plays January 31 to February 5 as part of the Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Atlanta series. Tickets are available at the Fox Theatre box office, all Ticketmaster outlets, by phone at 1-800-745-3000, or online at www.ticketmaster.com.

By: Kenny Norton