Beverley Knight and Killian Donnelly shine in Memphis
Critics don't entirely agree about the merits of the Broadway import, but are unanimous about the star power of the two leads
What it lacks in narrative subtlety it makes up for with a sound as rich as you're likely to hear on any West End stage... Beverley Knight... [plays] Felicia with a poise that confirms the former chart topper as a bona fide West End star... Killian Donnelly is allowed to unleash [his] full range... His big number, "Memphis Lives in Me", is a second act show-stopper that ranks as one of the most stirring odes to a city since "New York, New York"... I can't pretend the book and lyrics of Joe DiPietro are among the most sophisticated you'll encounter. In fact a few lines and narrative twists are so crass as to be almost laughable... It's delivered by a fully committed ensemble... all overseen by Christopher Ashley's slick and steady direction.
It is propelled as much by Joe DiPietro's book as by the pounding score of David Bryan... DiPietro's book also demonstrates the rigid brutality of segregation, the subversive power of popular music and the way radio was far ahead of national television in accepting change... Without descending into pastiche, the music captures the heady excitement of a moment when pop was undergoing seismic change... the story is put across with great verve... Beverley Knight... duly combines charisma and power... Killian Donnelly is new to me and something of a revelation. He conveys all of Huey's good-natured naivety while also proving... that he can punch across a song with real panache.
Predictable story, good music, great performances... Donnelly's Huey is not just white, he is almost luminous... Donnelly certainly gives full vent to his wackiness and along the way proves himself a fine mimic - and singer... As for Miss Knight, here is an artiste who attacks a song like a starving man yanking the top off a tin of beans... Fantastic stuff... this is a punchy, energetic show... choreographer Sergio Trujillo extracts maximum impact from his ensemble... David Bryan's music and lyrics are fine, but Joe DiPietro's story is little more than a routine tolerance... This is a joyous show, one to knock the dust off your inner stylus.
It boasts some of the most thrilling vocal work you'll find on the London stage, in its roof-raising evocation of the birth of rock 'n' roll... Charismatic actor Killian Donnelly brings winning verve to the role... Knight's acting versatility isn't on a par with the power of her lungs... she and Donnelly convince as tentative lovers... Even though not instantly memorable, the songs pass period-faithful muster. Director Christopher Ashley could take things at a less furious pace... But the cumulative effect is to have you itching to rise to your feet to join the revolution.
... while I salute the good intentions of Memphis... this pleasant enough evening neither rocked me nor rolled me over. I longed for a sturdier, less cartoonish story and a few standout tunes... Beverley Knight as Felicia Farrell is an endearing heroine who sings magnificently, and Killian Donnelly has a strong voice and a skittery charisma... Pretty much all of Christopher Ashley's cast impress; I just wish they had better material to work with... Joe DiPietro's script is so hokey that it leaves little time for real drama... Only when Claire Machin... sings "Change Don't Come Easy" do character and plot and theme all truly zing together... Sergio Trujillo's choreography makes fine use of David Gallo's two-tier set, but it's more pageant than drama. There is affection between Donnelly and Knight, but no passion... Yet while my foot tapped, my heart rate stayed steady in this good-looking, well-meaning but disposable show.
A gaudy explosion of well-intentioned hubris, the utter ridiculousness of Broadway import Memphis the Musical is, mercifully, matched by a big heart and even bigger singing talent... Christopher Ashley's production is inescapably fabulous, with two near-faultless leads. Looking like he's fresh from a heist on Justin Timberlake's wardrobe, Donnelly is a joy to watch... Knight's acting is more functional, but her singing is absolutely stupendous - she can belt it out no probs, but she also has tremendous nuance and restraint. It's a real vocal tour de force... Basically, if you want a brutally brilliant civil rights musical, head across town to The Scottsboro Boys; it you're after a stonking entertainment with less social smarts but lots of warm intentions, book yourself a ticket to Memphis.