Memphis at the Shaftesbury
David Bryan and Joe DiPietro’s Memphis opens in the West End this week after sweeping Broadway with its 1950s charm and indelible soul. Its reputation preceding it, Memphis is the story of an ambitious small-town guy, Huey Calahoun (Killian Donnelly), whose passion for “race music” takes him on a journey from no one to the number one DJ in Memphis. Falling for club singer Felicia Farrell (the sensational Beverley Knight), the two face prejudice and politics in their relationship, and the pressure of love against ambition.
After a slightly shaky start, Knight enters the stage – and the hearts of the audience – for her opening number, stealing the show with her knock-out voice of undeniable power and soul. From beginning to end she is the powerhouse of the performance, the audience holding their breath as she pounds out song after song.
Polished and utterly American, the production is peppered with dry humour that plays cleverly on racial tensions and the politics of the age. Mind-blowing dancing lightens the tone in big numbers such as Make Me Stronger and Stand Up. Big Love gets the most laughs of the night, hammed up brilliantly by Jason Pennycooke as Bobby.
The pace is energetic, with several showstopper moments, but a lapse towards the end hampers what is otherwise a compelling piece about talent, tolerance and taking risks. Memphis employs almost every trick in the cliché book to hit the story home, but if the reaction of the audience is anything to go by, they really don’t mind.
A musical with heart and a real story behind it, Memphis is a bold, brash, and somehow beautiful production about being someone and going somewhere. What it lacks in refinement and subtlety is more than made up for by Knight’s stunning vocal performance. If you want to hear what’s in your soul, go down to Memphis.
Photos: Johan Persson
Memphis is on at the Shaftesbury Theatre until 28th March 2015, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for Memphis here: