Applied Linguistics graduate and freelance writer. Visit my twitter: @heyclairemarie
Published June 30th 2015
Memphis is an exuberant, new and very glitzy musical that exploded onto the West End Stage in 2014. It is loosely based on the rise to fame of Memphis disc jokey Dewey Philips, who was one of the first white DJs to play black music in the 1950s.
The show is centered around the character of Huey, a DJ who spots the talent of nightclub singer Felicia (played by Beverley Knight) and aspires to make her a star. Along the way the two fall for each other, as they both attempt to defy and overcome the racial prejudices of the time. Huey attempts to lead a revolution in getting so called 'race music' onto the radio, ruffling feathers and inciting tensions when he gets white youngsters to dance to the beat. However, as Huey's career is boosted, the money-minded execs swoop in on him.
The show takes a little while to pull you in but if you give it time, you can't help being swept up in the show's mix of punchy songs and dazzling performances. As expected, Beverley Knight's voice is the star of the show and she shines brightly. However, the other cast members give good performances as well, in particular Killian Donnelly as central character Huey. Huey is full of verve and rebellious spirit, Donnelly's performance evoking memories of Robin Williams' in Good Morning Vietnam.
All the songs in Memphis are originals and the music rocks with the beat of different genres. Even though the songs are fun, dancey numbers, there are no standout tracks and unfortunately the music lacks memorability (I couldn't name any of the songs now). However, in the context of the show they work well and audience members will want to get up and dance.
The show has it's formulaic moments and there are sections which seem very similar to other Broadway shows. However, Memphis has enough sparkle, energy and verve to overcome this and provide a fabulous few hours of entertainment. If you come to see Memphis, bring your dancing shoes and prepare for a good time.