Date & Time: 5th February, 7.30pm
Memphis came to my attention not through traditional advertising but through social media. Whether I saw it mentioned on twitter or facebook, everyone who’d seen it, loved it and so it got bumped to the top of my list; what was this show which had everyone agreeing with one another? I wanted to avoid knowing any of the storyline or the songs before I got there. It was quite a treat to watch a show in this way; a rarity for me.
This lack of knowledge on the subject matter allowed me to watch the show as a clean slate, with no preconceptions or expections. Being naturally quite contrary I was prepared to be the one to disagree with the hype....
... which wasn’t to be because I loved it, just like everyone else.
It would have been so easy and safe in the current climate to have made this a jukebox musical (which I have to admit, I assumed it was going to be). It was a brave move to compose an original soundtrack with the back catalogue of songs already in existence from this era, but a move that I think will serve them well.
Brave moves are what this show is all about, after all. Set in a time and a place of racial segregation; where black people and white people didn’t mix – let alone their music – one renegade disc jockey comes along and dares to play “race music” on a white station in the middle of the dial (the prime location).
This DJ is called Huey Calhoun and is played by the tour-de-force that is Killian Donnelly, he’s a hyper-active whirlwind of energy that gives life to this frantic, fast-talking homage to a hybrid of real-life radio DJ’s of the time. He keeps up this pace through-out the show, though can pull it back appropriately when the moment calls for it just as well.
Huey meets Felicia (Beverley Knight) after strolling into a bar where she’s singing on Beale Street. In those times, this was something unheard of. Black and white people had their own, very separate, clubs and pubs and never the twain met. Huey isn’t exactly welcomed but hangs about nonetheless and before long develops a relationship with Felicia, which is daring but fraught with danger.
I was sceptical about Beverley Knight, as I always am when a “name” is cast. I had already seen her in ‘The Bodyguard’ at the Adelphi and though her vocal skills are undeniable, I don’t remember being blown away by her acting. In Memphis, however, I feel she’s come into her own. I never thought I was watching Beverley Knight being a character for the sake of boosting her career; while she was on that stage she embodied Felicia and portrayed the truth of that character.
The most touching moment of the show, goes to Tyrone Huntley who plays a character called ‘Gator’. Hope emanates from Gator where hate could easily have lived instead. This character has seen horrors that he cannot speak but his silence is broken after an incident which threatens to drive a wedge between black and white once more in the form of the song “Say a Prayer” – he helps bring the focus back to the fact that change is needed and not to let hate win out.
On the one hand this is a high energy musical with big ensemble dance scenes and laugh out loud moments but it’s also a musical with an important message and lesson in history and I for one came away feeling both uplifted and enriched. I recommend buying the programme too, well worth the money for the content.
That’s me over and out and there’s just one thing left to say........