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MEMPHIS THE MUSICAL – Shaftesbury Theatre, London

Memphis the Musical, Shaftesbury TheatreIt took Memphis: The Musical four Tony Awards and two years after its Broadway closing to transfer to the West End, but it is definitely worth the wait. All singing, all dancing, but with a really important storyline driving it, Memphis is breathtaking.

Loosely based on radio DJ Dewey Phillips, “crazy little” Huey Calhoun is on a mission to bring rhythm and blues music to the middle of the radio dial. Dealing with segregation and racism in the south of America during the 50’s, Huey falls in love with Beale Street club singer Felicia Farrell.

Rachel John gives a dynamic performance as alternate Felicia. Her voice is spectacular, but John is also able to bring a lot of depth to the character. Her chemistry with Killian Donnelly’s Huey is palpable, and the two bring a lot of warmth to the stage. However, she is missing that certain something that makes Beverley Knight, Beverley Knight. You can’t be disappointed by John, but you will be missing that extra spark Felicia could have.

David Bryan’s music moves you to tears one moment and has you dancing in the aisles the next. ‘Say a Prayer’ at the end of the first act is heart-wrenching, seemingly spontaneous, but also like something that had been building for a while. The explosion of sound, and the passion that drives this number makes your hair stand up on the back of your neck. ‘Say a Prayer’ is something that stays with you for a long time afterwards. In fact the whole soundtrack is incredibly addictive, luckily we shouldn’t have to wait too long for a West End cast recording, although an exact date has been marked for release yet.

Memphis the Musical, Shaftesbury TheatreKillian Donnelly is given a real opportunity to show off how talented he is as an actor. Huey Calhoun can go from endearing to frustrating within mere moments, and it is near impossible not to fall in love with his awkwardness and determination at times. Donnelly is well-known for his extraordinary pipes, but his performance of ‘Memphis Lives In Me’, is truly spine tingling. You can’t leave the Theatre without mentioning Donnelly’s crazy chicken legs, and rhythm and blues dancing. His oddness makes him all the more likeable.

Once you’ve seen it, you may well feel compelled to head back to the Shaftesbury Theatre. The cast, the set, the choreography, the music, the sheer noise of the piece; the audience is buzzing by the finale and there is such a release when you’re finally given the chance to stand up and dance along with them. Electrifying, emotional, exceptional; just go and see it.

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Reviewed 15/12/2014

By Joanna Trainor
@mintpixeljo

Booking until 31st October 2015
Shaftesbury Theatre, London, WC2.

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