Review - Memphis the Musical

Last week I visited Memphis for the third time since it opened in October, and as if I hadn't recommended this show/dragged people along to this show enough, this time I persuaded my grandma to see it with me. I fell in love with Memphis the first time I saw it, and my second visit confirmed that love, but I can honestly say that this third visit has been the most enjoyable one so far!

If you're not familiar with the show, Memphis follows the story of a young wannabe DJ named Huey Calhoun, who is inspired by a nightclub singer named Felicia Farrell to become the first white DJ to play Rock and Roll on the radio. It's a touching and inspirational story based on true events, and will have you humming its soundtrack for days. A must see on London's West End! 

I was already extremely excited to be heading back to Memphis for the first time since January, but when I collected my tickets from the box office and saw a sign tacked to the wall telling me that Rachel John would be playing the role of Felicia (the role is normally played by Beverley Knight) I was ecstatic! As I've mentioned in my previous Memphis blog posts, I am desperate to see both alternates in the lead roles, and now I've fulfilled half of this task I've got time to see other shows before returning to Memphis again at the end of June. This is all very exciting for me, but probably not why you're reading this post, so lets move on to the show...

Honestly, Memphis just keeps getting better and better. The music is brilliant (but then, in a show which is partly to do with 'the birth of rock and roll' you'd expect nothing less!), the costumes are gorgeous (I love a good period piece and this show is full of glam 1950s dresses, each and every one of them I'd love to steal for my own wardrobe) and the cast is one of the most hard working, enthusiastic casts on the West End right now! 

On the subject of the cast, I was as impressed as I always am. It feels as if Killian Donnelly was born to play Huey Calhoun, the hapless radio DJ whose story Memphis follows. Supporting cast members Rolan Bell and Jason Pennycooke both gave solid performances too. Bell does a fantastic job of making Felicia's overwrought and sometimes downright scary brother Delray an endearing and relatable character, while Pennycooke injects piles of humour into Bobby, a janitor with hidden skills of the performing variety. I also warmed to Gladys, Huey's mom (played by Claire Machin) much more this time, and had the pleasure of seeing Waylon Jacobs play the role of Gator (the role is normally played by Tyrone Huntly). His breakout moment at the end of act 1 had me and my grandma sniffling well into the interval.

For me though, the biggest treat of the show was finally getting to see Rachel John as Felicia. Not only did she have a stunning voice and embellished Felicia's songs with her own twists, she also brought out a different side to Felicia, which I'd not seen in other portrayals. I felt that the chemistry between between Huey and Felicia developed naturally throughout the course of act 1, and John and Donnelly really savoured the tender scenes, making you root for their relationship to blossom despite the adversities they face. I also loved the way Rachel John's Felicia's confidence grew throughout the show. While Beverley Knight's Felicia radiates star quality from her entrance, Rachel John's Felicia seems slightly more reserved until she comes into her own after her standout solo 'Coloured Woman' (which brought the house down! A really affecting,empowering song, wonderfully sung and acted.). I absolutely loved following Felicia's journey and watching her struggle and grow, and this made every decision she made in act 2 particularly understandable.
I feel so fortunate to have seen Rachel John in the role, and I am definitely thinking of returning to see her in the role again (my goal is to catch a double alternate show, but the next time this is scheduled to happen is a week before I have tickets to see Memphis again anyway, so I'm not sure I can justify to cost to myself... hopefully I'll be able to work something out though. Ahh, the joys of not living in London!) 
If you haven't seen this show yet then what are you waiting for? Not only was it one of my top 5 shows of 2014, it has also been one of my favourite shows of this year as well, and my grandma absolutely adored it too! Even if you have seen it (lucky you!) I recommend a repeat visit. It looks like this cast is only getting better, and it truly has something for everyone. Sharp, impressive choreography, memorable music and some of the most truthful and awe inspiring performances you'll see ANYWHERE on the West End! 

Verdict - 5 stars

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