Memphis The Musical
Reviewed on Thursday 16th July 2015
Last October I was blown away when Memphis The Musical first opened its doors at the Shaftesbury Theatre.
David Bryan and Joe DiPietro's musical - which is inspired by true events from the underground dance clubs of 1950s Memphis, Tennessee - came to London following a three year run on Broadway, during which it won the Tony Award for Best Musical.
Telling a story of forbidden love, the casting of the two leads is vital to the show's success. Producers struck gold by casting soul queen Beverley Knight, fresh from her West End debut in The Bodyguard, as aspiring singer Felicia Farrell alongside renowned West End actor Killian Donnelly as radio DJ Huey Calhoun. The duo set the stage on fire and received Olivier Award nominations for their performances.
As Memphis enters its final months, Donnelly has departed the production to prepare for his new role in Kinky Boots. Therefore Knight has handpicked Matt Cardle, the latest X Factor winner to make his West End debut, as her new Huey.
Huey is a tough role to crack as not only does it require exceptional vocals, but the character needs to be played with charm. Matt Cardle does a terrific job and makes it look like a walk in the park. His vocals are strong; he growls and riffs his way through the score, putting his all into every note.
He sings with emotion and brings the house down with his big number 'Memphis Lives In Me'. I adored the small quirks and details Cardle brought to his portrayal, his comic timing is impeccable - I cannot believe this is his acting debut! Cardle has successfully put his own stamp on the character, his performance is triumphant.
Beverley Knight, Claire Machin and Matt Cardle
There is no stopping Beverley Knight who is one of the most talented leading ladies I have ever seen on a West End stage. You can see how much the piece means to Knight throughout; she gives it everything she’s got. Acting-wise Knight is even stronger than before, she pulls off the comedy and performs with heart.
Knight's vocals are utterly insane - I have never witnessed a vocal performance like it. She lets rip on the score and makes it sound like it was written for her voice. I cannot believe the way Knight performs 'Colored Woman' during the first act, most performers usually pace themselves throughout a show but Knight seems to have vocal chords of steel. Later this year Knight will star as Grizabella in Cats, and let's hope she continues to jump from show to show for years to come.
The supporting cast are just as strong; Jason Pennycooke (Bobby) and Tyrone Huntley (Gator) steal the spotlight during their solo numbers and shine throughout whilst Claire Machin spectacularly comes into her own as Huey's mum. Understudy Simon Ray-Harvey also stood out as Felicia's brother, Delray, showing off some impressive vocal tones during 'She's My Sister' before bringing charm to the character in the second act.
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. The talent of the ensemble is magnificent and they make the show a spectacle.
It doesn’t matter that the book has one or two weaker moments; Memphis tells an important story and makes an incredibly powerful 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. It's moving, it's invigorating and you can't help but feel overwhelmingly inspired during the final number 'Steal Your Rock 'n' Roll'. The audience jumped to their feet and physically could not have screamed any louder.
For me, Memphis is perfect entertainment. It's hilarious; it's moving and unbelievably uplifting. Memphis is one of my absolute favourite shows and I'm thrilled to see it in the safe hands of Matt Cardle opposite the incomparable Beverley Knight. Sadly Memphis is closing at the end of October, so make sure you book tickets before it’s too late!
Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
Memphis runs at the Shaftesbury Theatre until 31st October 2015.
Please visit www.memphisthemusical.com for further information and tickets.
Photo Credit: Johan Persson
Photo Credit: Johan Persson