‘Memphis’ is a great musical, it’s a smash hit. Coming from Broadway, where was a success, winning the Best Musical Tony Award in 2010. I couldn’t wait to see it, because for the trailers and performances that I’ve already seen, I knew that I would love it. My expectations were right but I also was truly impressed and inspired for what I saw on the stage. I bought a Day Seat for £20 on the front row. It’s a great price for a great seat, because you are able to feel all the emotions and the voices very close to the actors and actresses.
The musical is a story of respect, tolerance and racism. In the 50’s, in America, white people didn’t mix with black people. But Huey Calhoun (Killian Donnelly), a white guy, loves black music, that’s why he decides to go to an underground black Rock and Roll Bar. He discovers Felicia Farrell (Beverley Knight), an amazing and extraordinary singer and he wants to play her songs on the radio. That’s why he looks desperately for a vacancy on a radio, because he wants to make her famous. Once he finds the job, he starts to play black records and he becomes the most popular man in Memphis. Felicia starts to be popular as well, and she gets a contract to record her own album in New York, so she must choose her job or Memphis.
To be honest, the story is not the best thing about ‘Memphis’. It’s not bad, it’s interesting, but it’s not nothing very original and special. Some people, watching the first act, can think about ‘Hairspray’, because there are a lot of similar things. In fact, it’s like the adult version of ‘Hairspray’. Huey Calhoun is like Tracy, bot of them are free from prejudices. They just listen to black music and enjoy it, they don’t care about the colour of the skin of the singer. It’s true that it’s typical, but it’s beautiful to see and inspiring.
Huey Calhoun is a very charming guy, Killian Donnelly does an amazing job. His voice is beautiful and he plays a guy that is a bit weird but with a heart full of good intentions, love and music to share. Some of his performances are unforgetable, like ‘The Music of my Soul’ or ‘Memphis Lives in Me’. He is very funny, a character easily to love, because he is persistint following his dreams.
In the other hand, there is Felicia Farrell, played by Beverley Knight. Oh my God how can she be more extraordinary? I don’t know much about her, I was so surprised to see lots of people waiting for her after the show on the stage door. I didn’t know that she was that popular. Anyway, she is great, with a huge range, she is absolutely blessed, her voice is something so powerful and moving that makes the hole show unique and brilliant.
Felicia is a wonderful character too. She is changing, with lots of ambitions, growing and being a star. She loves Huey Calhoun, and it’s difficult because most of the people can’t accept that a white guy and a black girl are together. She is sometimes scared, I think that he is braver in this case, but she has a good voice and a good career to develop.
The second act of ‘Memphis’ is a little bit different and much better, in my opinion. You can see how the characters change and have a background. They are so much more than what you see at the beginning, like Gladys (Huey Calhoun’s mother, played by Claire Machin, who I remembered from ‘The Pajama Game’) or Bobby (Jason Pennycooke). They surprise you, they are unexpected. And also the main characters must make some hard choices, which is very interesting to see and discover too. They must decide between love and the direction of their own professional careers.
The songs are one of the best things of the show. I can’t wait to buy the cast recording (I’m sorry but I don’t want to pay £15 on the theatre when online is cheaper) and remember the songs forever. There is also a DVD of the Broadway production, and since many years ago there are rumours of a movie adaptation. I hope it’s true; I would like to feel the songs again (knowing that watching it live it’s a different experience). I specially enjoyed the songs performed by the company, all together in chorus, like ‘Steal Your Rock ‘n’ Roll’, the amazing opening ‘Underground’ or ‘Everybody Wants To Be Black On A Saturday Night’.
What I enjoyed the most by far from all the show was the energy on the stage. I was sitting close to it and I was feeling a lot of passion. The dancers were doing their best to entertain me and make me feel happy. The choreography is just outstanding, completely unusual. The dancers were making pirouettes, very beautifully coordinated. It truly makes you feel that you are in the 50’s, you understand the story and how stupid is the discrimination for race.
I think that ‘Memphis’ arrived to London with a lot of expectations and hopes. Sadly, lots of musicals are closing after short seasons. Only classic musicals stay for long. I think that a balance is important, so audience can enjoy new and old productions, with different styles, songs and stories. I’m not sure ‘Memphis’ will stay long in the Shaftesbury Theatre. I’ve read some rumours that ‘Motown, the musical’ is coming soon. Also, Killian Donnelly is leaving the show to perform in ‘Kinky Boots’ at the Adelphi Theatre.
Just in case ‘Memphis’ closes some day, don’t know when, go and get some tickets! Discover by yourself all the energy and love of this show has to share. OK, I recognise that the story is nothing new, but watching the amazing cast performing it makes it very special. The songs are a hit, with great voices and extraordinary choreography. You won’t regret it; it’s worth the money you spend. Feel all the passion of the songs on your soul.