• Our critic's rating:
    Monday, July 27, 2015
    Review by:
    Mark Shenton

    **Read our original Memphis review (from October 2014), with Killian Donnelly as Huey Calhoun

    The Broadway transfer of Memphis to the West End's Shaftesbury has already posted closing notices and will end its run on October 31, a little over a year after opening there, before being followed next year by another transfer for Motown, a jukebox musical based around the back pop and soul catalogue of one of the greatest record labels of all time that brought numerous black American artists into the mainstream.

    By coincidence, Memphis, too, revolves around the recording industry and an aspiring black singer's attempts to crack it in the racially divided Southern city of that name with the support of a local white DJ, but it boasts an original score by David Bryan, who is also a guitarist with Bon Jovi, with lyrics co-written with book writer Joe DiPietro.

    I'm surprised it has not been a bigger hit — but it is going out on a high, with the arrival of 2010 X Factor winner Matt Cardle joining the sensational Beverley Knight, a British recording star who made her stage debut in The Bodyguard and is going next to appear as Grizabella in Cats and is becoming a major stage star in her own right.

    They make an absolutely ferocious pairing vocally speaking (or rather vocally singing), as they chart the difficulties of the across-the-colour-line relationship in 50s Memphis that meets with disapproval both from his mother and her brother. They give the somewhat hackneyed story an electrifying charge, not just in their exhilarating numbers but between them, too, in alternately tender and terrifying challenges they face.

    Both actors know personally the high costs of trying to make it in the music business, so their performances come from an authentic place. And both have truly fantastic voices. Cardle may have a tendency to 'gurn' a bit in the acting stakes — he sticks his tongue out, lizard-like, far too often by way of an acting response — but he has bags of charm. His character is fond of exclaiming "Hockadoo!", and whatever it means, I happily echo it for his performance.

    Knight, meanwhile, exudes vulnerability as well as glamour in spades, and there's great ensemble work all around, particularly from the troupe of exhilarating dancers and onstage band.

    Catch it while you can.


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