By Harry Bedford, Entertainment Editor
The civil rights movement and popular music were married together back in the 1950s and 1960s. Artists such as Sam Cooke singing ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ and Bob Dylan singing ‘The Times they are a-changing’ were hugely significant at the time. So it makes sense that a musical, set in Memphis, about the integration of black and white culture would work. Memphis tells the story of the over-confident, under-educated young white man Huey, played by Killian Donnelly, who become obsessed by rhythm and blues. He intrudes upon a black nightclub on the famous Beale Street and makes himself at home. The regulars, cautious at first, are slowly won over when he makes good on a promise to get Felicia, a young singer from the club played beautifully by the supremely talented Beverley Knight, onto a white radio station. However relations worsen as he and Felicia began a, then-illegal, interracial relationship.
In his pursuits, Huey is able to push the boundaries and bring black music to a white audience, much as Sam Philips, owner of Sun Records, did with Elvis Presley. However the music that graces this show attempts to imitate that of Stax Records, a soul music record company that recorded such artists as Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin. Stax was the more raw version of Detroit’s Motown record label that had a more polished sound. Most of the music in Memphis struggles to live up to its influences, however the song ‘Someday’, sang by Knight’s character Felicia is a real gem.
Although Memphis is a well put-together production that certainly lives up to the West End standard, its story and music do not live up to the likes of other West End Shows such as Jersey Boys and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Nevertheless the playfulness of Killian Donnelly’s Huey and the sheer delight of witnessing Beverley Knight, one of the greatest soul singers in the country, makes Memphis well worth a watch.