Billed as the story of the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, Memphis tells a story of forbidden love between a white radio DJ and a black singer, in 1950s America. It featured a talented ensemble cast and some great original songs. I was keen to see Beverly Knight as starring as Felicia (the singer who falls in love with Huey the radio DJ). She did not disappoint, she has a truly astounding voice and fantastic stage presence.
I was also impressed by the slickness of the show and how packed full of strong vocal performances it was. It seemed that Memphis was an excellent example of a Broadway transfer with a tight script and strong choreography. The show had some moments of ingenuity too, not only did it seem like it was ticking all the boxes of a great musical, it came up with new and inventive theatrical devices. The record shop scene (‘Scratch My Itch’) ingeniously presented people responding to rock ‘n’ roll for the first time by using physical theatre to illustrate their reactions. The scenery was functional yet creative, always purposeful and never detracting from the excellent onstage action. I got goosebumps at several points during the first act – highlights included Beverly Knight singing the stunning ‘Coloured Woman’ and the frenetic gospel number ‘Make Me Stronger’.
Unfortunately Memphis the Musical was unable to maintain this level of quality throughout the entire show. The song demonstrating the tension between Felicia’s brother, Delray, and her lover, Huey (‘She’s My Sister’) lacked the nuance and subtlety of the rest of the first act and marked the decline in the quality of the show. There were several moments when I expected the first act to end and yet it didn’t. Comparatively, the second act was much shorter and disappointingly lacked the polish and excitement of the first half. I felt that this was primarily because the tension of the second act hinged on the racially motivated attack against Felicia and Huey. Unfortunately the attack was really poorly executed. The stage violence was awful – neither realistic nor symbolic and subsequently all the acting in the aftermath of the attack was pretty atrocious. Up until this point, I felt Memphis had been doing a reasonable job of presenting racial tension in the USA and the beginnings of civil rights action through the media, albeit sanitised for the medium of musical theatre. Unfortunately, where I felt the musical had started off brilliantly in handling difficult subject matter, it tailed off in the second half losing the originality and sophistication that had made it seem so promising. Ultimately, this was a crowd-pleaser and overall was an enjoyable evening but prepared to be very impressed by the first act and underwhelmed by the second. 3.5/5
Review written by Emily Channon.
Memphis the Musical is currently showing at the Shaftesbury Theatre until March 2015. For more information on the production, visit here…
For tickets to Memphis the Musical, visit here…
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