Memphis the Musical

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  • Musicals
1 Love It
© Johan Persson

Jason Pennycooke (Bobby)

© Johan Persson

Killian Donnelly (Huey Calhoun) and Beverley Knight (Felicia Farrell)

© Johan Persson

Killian Donnelly (Huey Calhoun) and Rolan Bell (Delray)

© Johan Persson
© Johan Persson
© Johan Persson
© Johan Persson
Shaftesbury Theatre , Covent Garden Until Saturday October 31 2015
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A new musical of stonking entertainment with a big heart and even bigger singing talent from Killian Donnelly and Beverley Knight.

Matt Cardle now plays Huey until the end of 'Memphis's run

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.

Loosely based on the lives of pioneering American DJs Dewey Phillips and Alan Freed, ‘Memphis’ concerns lovable wildman Huey (Killian Donnelly) and his dizzying ascent to number one radio and television personality in Memphis, Tennessee. This he does by becoming the first to play the great black music of the early ’50s to an eager young white audience.

So far so good, but in a hysterically unselfconscious gesture, all the songs in ‘Memphis’ are originals, penned by one David Bryan, a middle-aged white guy with a fun perm whose day job is playing keys in Bon Jovi.

Now, of course Bryan has the right to write about this era, and of course the songs are loving homages to a period in rock and soul history that he clearly adores. But the bottom line is that – even ignoring the whiff of white male privilege – there’s a recurrent bathos each time Huey drops a ho-hum Little Richard-ish song instead of the scintillating real deal – the inclusion of even a smattering of period classics would have pepped ‘Memphis’ up no end.

There are also problems with Joe DiPietro’s wonky book. Though the hideous racism of ’50s Tennessee is duly stressed, nothing much really occurs to slow the ascent of Huey’s star and his relationship with shy black soul singer Felicia (Beverley Knight) until the last ten minutes, in which so much stuff happens so quickly that I left slightly bewildered.
But for all that, 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: rangy, with an anarchic charisma and adorably eccentric chicken dance. 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, and one that certainly elevates Bryan’s songs several serious notches. Sergio Trujillo’s snappy, aerobic choreography is an extra thrill.

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’.

Venue name: Shaftesbury Theatre
Address: 210 Shaftesbury Avenue
Transport: Holborn or Tottenham Court Road tube
Price: £20-£67.50. Runs 2hr 30min

Average User Rating

4.7 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:7
  • 4 star:3
  • 3 star:0
  • 2 star:0
  • 1 star:0
2 people listening
Sarah G

I took my mum and dad yesterday as my dad's birthday present. My mum is now partially sighted and I've been chuffed to discover that most theatres offer accessibility tickets - which a) mean she can see the stage b) means three of us can go relatively reasonably! We all loved it!

I'm not sure any review can do this amazing production justice. It's simply ace on every single count, amazing story, music, singing & dancing!

It touched me so emotionally - as someone black married to a white guy with mixed race children - stories like this remind me how much for granted we take hard won freedoms. I was literally on the edge of my seat and on the verge of tears throughout - with some real blubbering at the end! I couldn't cheer during the standing ovation as I was about to breakdown!

The scene of awful violence was so inevitable yet left me stunned and feeling like I'd been hit with that baseball bat. In the last year there've been several productions in the same ball park - the spine chilling, tremendously uncomfortable feeling Scottsborough Boys and the super feel-good Bend it Like Backham! Memphis combines elements from both and adds some special extra ingredients! It would have been easy to fall back into some traditional Southern stuff - it being the birthplace of Elvis and serene of Dr Kings murder, but sticking with a familiar but original story was brave and the right thing to do!

They don't call it soul music for nothing! All the performances are beyond amazing but from the first moment Beverley Knight opened her mouth it was like someone had reached right into my insides!

The show closes soon - if you can get a ticket go!

Ps slightly gutted to see there was a Time Out discount - note to self to check in future

Kishma S

I have heard great things about Beverley Knight so I booked tickets to see her before she left. It turned out that she was on holiday on the day I went and I was gutted. I got over it. 

Rachel John was excellent as Felicia but the star of the show for me was Matt Cardle who was brilliant as Huey. The show ended to a well deserved standing ovation.

I found the show to be energetic, very funny and sad in parts and it's instantly one of my favourite West end show.

The icing on the cake was that the tickets were only £25 for the back of the stalls which were then upgraded. Go and see it before it ends!

Sonny C

Wow!! Saw the original Westend cast with Killian Donnelly & thought it was a fantastic show. The amazing & ageless Miss Beverley Knight is a knock out as Felicia. I went again this week because I loved the songs & was curious as to how X Factor alumni Matt Cardle would fare. Again Wow! He put in a charismatic & true leading man performance. The vocals were sublime- the 2 leads chemistry & voices together were theatre gold. The whole ensemble are slick & the production is faultless. Never heard so much spontaneous applause after individual songs. Loved Rolan Bell's voice too. When I wasn't beaming with delight I was crying at the more emotive scenes. Universal standing ovation & well deserved. One of the best shows currently on- see it while you can!


Memphis was absolutely fantastic. I rarely say that I will see a musical twice but it just ticked all the boxes for a feel good, upbeat and cheery mid-week night out that constantly had me swaying in my seat. The cast were outstanding, possibly one of the strongest collectively that I have ever seen. I was, at first, a tad sceptical about Matt Cardle playing Huey as I didn’t think his voice would be able to match the mighty Beverly Knight but he complimented her perfectly, and in his own right, was such a pleasure to watch. His cheeky chappy charm shone through and the chemistry between the two lovers was very believable. Don’t miss out on this treasure of a show, it really is an absolute treat!


This has to one of my new favourite musicals of the year (seen it twice and have purchased the soundtrack) and was the Winner of four Tony Awards in 2010, including Best Musical.The storyline is based on disc jockey Huey Calhoun played by Cillian Donnelly (now Matt Cardle) and his relationship with Soul singer Felicia played by a sensational Beverly Knight who was born for this role (unfortunately at the time of writing this review she may have moved over to perform in Cats). Memphis feel more original than the general shows on the West End at the moment though I would say has a few similarities with the musical Hairspray (also based on issues of segregation and acceptance).


The addition of Matt Cardle is genius. Although I saw Cillian Donnelly I just didnt understand all the hype. He has a great voice yes but I actually found his performance tired and annoying. Matt brings such a new perspective to the role. Maybe its the fact that he can understand what its like to go from hero to zero in a short period of time after his exploits on X-Factor but this performance cements my opinion that he is one of the best singers currently on the West End. Put him together with the awesomely talented Beverly Knight (that voice is just unbelievable) and you just have an epic musical event. The book still lacks something and the second half feels like a damp squib but the two leads and the superb ensemble make this a must see show. Catch it before it finishes.

Ken C

Saw the show Sat 01 November.  Whole show was awesome.  A must see.

Charles P

I absolutely love this. It isn't the the most intelligent piece of theatre, but is has great songs and choreo, with the best band in the West End. 4 1/2 stars. 

The Man on the Street

Go ! 

Simply loved it 

Came out of the theatre with hands raw from clapping, just thinking about who I want to take when I go again. Its that good. In fact if they had passed a few beers around and let the band play on , I would still be there.