Hitting London’s West End this month has been Memphis. The 2010 Broadway smash hit musical (and winner of 4 Tony Awards) written by Joe DiPietro and with music by David Bryan (Bonjovi). Since the very first preview people have been telling me how incredible the show is and so I went along to press night, excited to see what all the fuss was about.
Memphis tells the story of happy-go-lucky Huey, a young white man with a passion for black music in 1950’s Memphis, Tennessee. When he walks into a black club one day, the patrons quickly turn on him and force him out but when he declares he is going to make the owners sister Felicia a star and get her played on the radio, they become slightly more curious about the man in front of them. It is a serious story of racism, abuse and the way the world was only sixty years ago. It shows how far we have come as a nation but also how far we still have to come to make equality truly mean something.
The choreography and set design are great and the scene transitions are smoothly executed so you barely notice it is happening. This show has certainly not been thrown together quickly (as so many shows these days sadly are). The music pumps out hit song after hit song and if there isn’t a London cast recording made of this show then I shall be having serious words with whom ever has the power the make that happen!
Pop star Beverley Knight was most recently seen playing the role of Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard, singing Whitney Houston’s greatest hits. But Memphis shows not only her incredible voice and vocal range but her brilliant acting ability as well as one of the main characters, Felicia. Beverley might be an established pop star but she belongs on the West End stage.
Starring alongside Beverley is Killian Donnelly (most recently seen playing the role of Deco in the Commitments at the Palace Theatre). There is something incredibly cheeky and endearing about this man who’s charisma and unique dance moves make you want to throw your bra onto the stage in lustful passion. It is when these two performers come together on stage that a virtual fire is lit and their combined voices make the hairs on your arms stand up and your eyes fill will tears at the beauty of the noise they make together. Whist these two performers undoubtedly steal the show, there are several other stand out performances. Claire Machin plays Hueys mother Gladys as the unsupportive parent who quickly becomes dazzled by the bright lights of stardom and rises like a phoenix from the ashes. From withered old lady to sassy cougar, she transforms her character not only visually but vocally, going from an average performer in act 1 to an incredible power house in act 2. Jason Pennycooke is the unsung hero as Bobby, blending well into the background but taking advantage of every opportunity he has to show his incredible talent.
If London is the theatre capital of the world then Memphis with Killian Donnelly and Beverley Knight must be the best show in the world. Two triple threats that when combined raise the bar of what I thought the limit to incredible was!
A 5* show from start to finish.
Reviewed by West End Wilma
Memphis is playing at the Shaftesbury Theatre until 28 March 2015.