I quite often let my blog lapse these days, sometimes it is due to lack of time, sometimes my reviews are professional and get posted elsewhere and then I forget to link them to here and sometimes I simply can’t be bothered. But yesterday I headed to London for one of my faves – a two show day, or a ‘Snooky’ as it is sometimes known – and I saw a show which completely blew me away.
I have seen a fair few good shows lately, not as many as I was seeing at one time but quite a few nonetheless. And there has recently been quite a few closures and therefore new shows arriving in the West End, so plenty of choice and a lot of interesting and enjoyable productions. One of the new ones I was curious to see however was Memphis. I knew very little about this show – I watched the trailer for it and saw them on Sunday Night at the Palladium but that’s as much as I knew – but as a lot of you may know, I thoroughly enjoy watching Killian Donnelly on stage and as he is originating this role in London (Ok so he’s not the original Huey but he is the first on the West End), I wanted to go along to support him. Turns out this was the best decision I have made in quite a while.
I had of course been hearing excellent things written about it, but I avoided actually reading any reviews in order to make up my own mind about it. It started off well with managing to get front row seats. These were super and I personally love to see facial expressions so enjoy being that close. I was chatting to a couple sitting next to myself and my friend, they had seen Memphis before on Broadway and therefore had high expectations, so I asked them to report at the end what they thought – more on that later.
Well from the second the show began I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Right from the first few minutes there were some fantastic vocals accompanied by first rate choreography and very accomplished dancers. Set in the 1950’s, this was a time when racial segregation still occurred (and indeed even today not everyone is accepted or given the same rights as others) and Memphis tells the story of Huey Callhoun (played by Killian Donnelly), a local white boy, who has heard the R and B sound and fallen in love with it. He wanders into the ‘wrong side of town’ into one of their clubs and from there onwards continues to create a stir.
Donnelly is funny, as ever his comedy timing and expressions are spot on. He plays Huey as an annoying yet likeable, not particularly bright, not much good at anything chap but what comes across most strongly of all is how human and real he is. Huey is such an honest character – to him there is no difference between ‘them’ and the white folk. He vows to bring their music to the people and to get Felicia (Beverley Knight) heard.
Felicia is the sister of nightclub owner Del Ray and they are shocked at the way Huey tries to “steal” their music. However, Huey eventually wins Felicia over and they begin a romance and Huey keeps his promise of getting her songs played on the radio. Their relationship has to be kept secret and they have to deal with a lot of prejudice, particularly when they are caught together. There is some lovely chemistry between Huey and Felicia but I also enjoyed the relationships between Huey and Bobby, Gator and DelRay. Although this production is centered around some very serious issues (and they are by no means glossed over despite most of the songs being very upbeat) it is also extremely funny.
When Knight opens her mouth it is as if everything stops. She has got a cracking pair of lungs and some serious voice control on her. It was almost as though the audience held their collective breaths as she sang. And when she was joined by Donnelly I got goose bumps. Their voices work beautifully together, the tones of each complementing the other and rivalling one another in strength. There are not enough adjectives to describe how incredible they are.
I was captivated not only by the vocal capabilities of the leads but also by the wonderful choreography and slick moves. The dancers were so athletic and it was also nice to see Killian having a bit of a boogie too – albeit rather in Huey’s somewhat unique style. I genuinely cannot fault any of the cast vocally or performance wise. Another good thing about the production is that it keeps moving. Even the slow parts are kept short and quite intense so your attention never starts to wander, something that I have found happening in several shows, and they all have a purpose rather than feeling as though they have been added and dragged out to extend the show.
I don’t want to ruin anything else for those who haven’t been but I truly loved everything from the costumes to the sets to the score. I can see why this has been getting four and five star reviews. I spoke to the couple next to us again afterwards and they were full of praise. They had enjoyed the Broadway version of Huey but thought Killian was even better. And it seems the rest of the audience were in agreement. I heard compliment after compliment for Beverly and her incredible voice. There was cheering and whooping after every song. The standing ovation at the end was an absolutely spontaneous, genuine one. And it could not have been any more deserved.
I laughed, I (nearly) cried, I wanted to get up and dance. I heard it and I felt it. So if you only buy one ticket this year, make it a trip to see Memphis. I will be going back without a doubt, and it will be sooner rather than later. Everyone should see this phenomenal production and hear just how outstanding Donnelly and Knight are.
What are you waiting for!? Hockadoo!