Review - Memphis the Musical (previews) - October 18th 2014

Having already seen the Broadway proshot and heard the cast album too many times to count, I had extremely high hopes for Memphis, and I wasn’t disappointed. The show only played its first public performance just over a week ago, and it’s still in previews right now, but my god, everything was perfect!

The cast…oh, the cast was incredible. Killian Donnelly played Huey Calhoun, a young man from Memphis who became the ‘first white man to play rhythm and blues for a mainstream audience’. Although his character is fictional, he is based on real DJs from the 1950s. Killian Donnelly’s performance was just outstanding, he was so endearing and adorable and I loved his characterisation. It was VERY different to Chad Kimball’s take on the role, but equally enjoyable. He gave an extraordinarily strong performance throughout the show, but his rendition of Huey’s big act 2 number Memphis Lives in Me was just something else entirely! It was truly one of the most outstanding live performances I’ve ever heard in my life. Donnelly’s voice is so powerful and emotive and characterful too! I could listen him sing that song over and over again (hint hint…West End cast album request!). Playing opposite Killian Donnelly, in the role of beautiful young singer Felicia Farrell was Beverley Knight. I really liked Beverley’s voice already, and have a soft spot for her because she’s from a place very close to where my parents come from, but I had no idea how outstanding her acting was. Oh my gosh she was extraordinary. I LOVED her take on Felicia, because she was so strong and so determined. Her performance of Coloured Woman was just breath-taking, literally. I didn’t dare even blink through it because I was scared I’d miss some little detail of her performance. I literally couldn’t keep my eyes off her. She also had an outstanding number of outfits, and her Felicia always looked so lovely. I was in love with every costume she wore!

Coming to other members of the cast, first and foremost, I have to mention how blown away I was by Tyrone Huntley who played the barman Gator. He was just brilliant. His vocals at the end of act one during Say a Prayer just blew me away. On the subject of that song, it was so, SO well performed and so emotional, and possibly one of my favourite scenes in the show. It was heart-breaking and emotional and the ensemble shone magnificently during that particular song. Stunning. (I did notice a minor lyric change in one song but thinking back I can’t for the life of it remember what it was!)

There wasn’t a weak link in the cast as far as I’m concerned. I did initially feel that a couple of actors had been miscast, but once I got settled in to the show I forgot all of my initial worries and found that each cast member was as talented as the last. Special mention however, must go to Jon Robyns who performs in the ensemble and is also the alternate Huey (and I WILL be going back to see him in that role at some point!). I really love Jon Robyns as a performer (he’s probably best known for playing Enjolras on the 2011 Les Mis UK tour cast album alongside John Owen Jones, Gareth Gates and Earl Carpenter, but also played Princeton/Rod in the original London cast of Avenue Q and has appeared in a number of other shows since) and therefore found myself drawn to him during ensemble scenes. He did appear as Perry Como, Gordon Grant and a number of other minor characters, but I was just excited to see him perform, so that was a personal highlight for me. (oh, one thing I noticed… there were no trapdoors so the actors from the shop scene were brought onstage via a panel that slid across the stage. Also, during the ‘the ride never stops’ part of Radio, the box didn’t raise up, and Huey instead got on to the balcony via the stairs at stage right? Not sure why?),

Music-wise, I was just in love with everything about the music prior to seeing it, but hearing all the songs performed live with a totally different cast is obviously a very different experience. Wow, the music is good… It’s fun, it’s catchy, it fits the period in which the piece is set and each song captures the tone of the scene in which it is performed perfectly! If you haven’t, go and listen to the cast album right now!!!

Memphis is now open at the Shaftsbury Theatre, and I recommend you buy your tickets asap, because I predict that it wont be long until Memphis is a firm favourite with theatre enthusiasts and casual fans alike!

Verdict - 4 1/2 Stars

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

Edit - August 2015
In response to recent events, I would like to state that this preview review was posted solely for personal use at the time of publication. This blog began as a hobby, and for this reason I was not familiar with embargos or the etiquette surrounding reviewing previews. Even so, this review was posted with the word PREVIEW in the title, so that it would be clear that my comments may not fully reflect the content of the show later in previews or on/after press night. Having now become more a more professional theatre blogger, I would like to state that unless specifically agreed, no preview reviews will appear on this site, and any posts which contain references to or comment upon preview performances will continue to be clearly labelled as such. Thanks for your support!