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Review: Memphis The Musical at London Shaftesbury Theatre

A return to our Theatre Blog... Victoria Ling, from 137 Imaging (  is guest reviewer:

Memphis The Musical
London Shaftesbury Theatre,
Currently booking until March 2015

Photography by Johan Persson

Before going to see this show all I knew was is that we were going to 1950s Deep South America where black and white do not to mix, though through the power of music, they do! Having studied this subject at a high level I was excited to see what Memphis had in store.

Photography by Johan Persson
As soon as the show opens we are thrown into a head bopping and feet stomping frenzy and into a ‘black underground club’ with the ensemble jiving away…then in steps white boy Huey Calhoun (Killian Donnelly). Can you imagine the reaction?  

Photography by Johan Persson
Through trying out for a new role in the music section of the department store, Calhoun has the white folk dancing to black rock and roll music - not a good thing for a white business it seems, so he is fired. Luckily, his passion for music leads to his break into radio.  Well he is saved by white kids calling for more of this black music to be played. He is so fascinated by Felicia (Beverley Knight) who caught his eye (and his ear) performing at the black club owned by her brother Delray (Rolan Bell) and promises that now is in radio he will get her onto the airwaves. Hockadoo!!!

Photography by Johan Persson
definitely portrays what 1950s ‘Deep South’ America was like as when Calhoun is around the ‘black scene’ they don’t interfere with him and just let him be (maybe as white is more superior, right?) but there is definitely a chemistry between him and Felicia although her brother Delray and Calhoun’s mother Gladys (Claire Machin) are against them. 

Have faith and believe
Like the air that you breathe
Love will stand when all else falls

Photography by Johan Persson
Though in a few scenes we are shown that black should not be in a white in world.  I can tell you there were many emotions stirred throughout this show that I cannot possibly put them down in this piece as you must go and witness this for yourself. One minute though you are feet stomping and head bopping to having tears roll down your cheeks.

So through love between black and white and the love of rock and roll – or ‘Negro blues sped up’ – we see the barriers breaking and radio fronted by a white man playing black music comes and the set design from stage to the audience is pretty spectacular.

Photography by Johan Persson
Beverley Knight and Killian Donnelly give stunning andpowerful performances throughout. All I can say is near to end of Act 1 is probably the most stand out scene for me. Most people are probably more familiar with Ms Knight being crowned as Queen of UK Soul but this role is made for her in both voice and character. Supporting members Bobby (Jason Pennycooke) and Gator (Tyrone Huntley) definitely leave you in awe too. The skills in the voice and the feet are quite something from Pennycooke. As for Huntley, well you will just have to get one of the hottest tickets in town to see what he brings to Gator.  He had me by the heart!

As this is so new to the West End, I tell you this; music wins in the end and well ‘you hear about that negro lady in Alabama? The one who wouldn’t give up her seat on the bus?’

The lyrics from Steal Your Rock And Rollsays it all:

And if you listen to the beat
And hear what’s in your soul
You’ll never let anyone …….
Steal your rock and roll.

Photography by Johan Persson
Get your dancing shoes and your tissues, at the ready….for Memphis lives in you! And if you love your choreography you will not be disappointed with the moves this ensemble brings. That, with the vocal acrobatics definitely made the full house standing ovation rightly deserved!


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This review was written by Victoria Ling  for Jowheretogo PR ( Follow Victoria on twitter @LilVik or follow her photography on Facebook (

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