Monday, 27 October 2014

Review: Memphis at the Shaftesbury Theatre starring Beverley Knight & Killian Donnelly

Shaftesbury Theatre
Reviewed on Friday 24th October 2014

Memphis has set the West End on fire! 

David Bryan and Joe DiPietro's musical - which is inspired by true events from the underground dance clubs of 1950s Memphis, Tennessee - opened on Broadway in 2009 where it ran for three years, winning four Tony Awards including Best Musical. It tells a story of dreams and forbidden love. 

Following her triumphant theatrical debut in The Bodyguard, Beverley Knight steps into the role of aspiring singer Felicia Farrell who meets radio DJ Huey Calhoun, played by Killian Donnelly. 

Knight was sensational in The Bodyguard but her portrayal of Felicia blew me away even more. As well as acting the role superbly, each time Knight opened her mouth to sing my jaw fell to the ground; her vocal talents are absolutely astounding and we are so lucky to have such a supreme performer working in the West End.

Not many people could match Knight's talents, but Donnelly is equally as sensational. Huey is a quirky and courageous character, with Donnelly making him likeable. The two highlights of the show are Knight's rendition of 'Coloured Woman' and Donnelly's rendition of 'Memphis Lives In Me'. Both actors sing for their lives and are deserving of Olivier Awards. 

The entire Memphis cast are remarkably talented. Sergio Trujillo's choreography is hugely impressive. As well as dancing full out, the ensemble showcase all sorts of astounding acrobatic tricks. I often didn't know where to look as there was too much talent in front of my eyes. There are plenty of laughs throughout; however act two ends on a more powerful note with the song 'Say a Prayer' which is led by the terrific Tyrone Huntley. 

Huntley isn't the only strong supporting cast member, with Rolan Bell, Claire Machin and Jason Pennycooke all providing stand out performances. The casting for this production is spot on. The set is simple (and occasionally wobbly) which is perfectly acceptable as the talented cast make Memphis a spectacle. 

I forgave occasional weaker moments of the book, as I think Memphis tells a very important story and successfully makes its point. The show is set in a time when things were changing - it is the history of Rock 'n' Roll music and how it became mainstream. The final number, 'Steal Your Rock 'n' Roll', is incredibly uplifting and I found myself humming it all weekend. 

The audience response at the end of the night was crazy! Everyone jumped to their feet the second the show ended without hesitation. People could not have screamed, yelled or applauded any louder which the cast clearly found quite overwhelming. 

Memphis is exactly what theatre is all about; it takes you on an almighty journey. It is silly and funny but also powerful and moving and I can't imagine anyone leaving the theatre without feeling uplifted or pumped. I previously knew very little about Memphis, but am thrilled to have discovered a new favourite show. You have to see it! 

Memphis looks set to become the hottest ticket in town.

Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Memphis is booking at the Shaftesbury Theatre until Saturday 28th March 2015.
Visit for info and tickets.

Photo Credit: Johan Perrson

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