Monday, December 08, 2014

MEMPHIS... And I'm as blue as a boy can be

I really have no idea what to say about MEMPHIS: THE MUSICAL at the Shaftesbury.  As opposed to MEMPHIS: THE CITY or MEMPHIS: THE SEWER SYSTEM.

Oh Beverley Knight... the things you put me through.  Some performers make it bloody hard to be a fan.

It didn't take too long to realise I was not enjoying the show but what was the cause of my distress?

I am still in a state of shock that one of the thinnest books I have ever sat through won a Tony Award.  So, the story: Huey, an under-achieving department store worker becomes a d.j. and uses his popularity to bring rhythm and blues to the masses while also starting an affair with a talented singer Felicia against the opposition of his mother and her brother Delray.

And that's about it.  Now I don't expect depth from the average musical book but sweet Jesu... the characters are paper-thin and change with their every appearance onstage: the hero's mother is a Southern racist but has an overnight conversion by going to a black church meeting, the girl singer's brother is ultra-protective, then he's not, then he is...

The biggest absurdity in the script is when Huey and Felicia are caught kissing on the street by a group of racists who beat her in the stomach with a base-ball bat.  Later Delray, while arguing with Huey, announces that because of him Felicia can no longer have children.  So how does this colour her character as written?  Not a jot as it's never mentioned again.

Maybe she didn't particularly care to have children?

On a bigger scale - and I am truly stunned that critics have not picked up on this - the second half is a direct steal from HAIRSPRAY as Huey is given his own local cable music show which he presents as truly integrated.  The final number "Steal Your Rock 'n' Roll" also has a chorus that is a direct steal from HAIRSPRAY's "You Can't Stop The Beat".  But by then I was past caring.

There are incidental pleasures such as Sergio Trujillo's choreography which is energetic and gives the male ensemble in particular plenty of scope to shine.  There was good work from Rolan Bell in the schizoid role of the approving/disapproving brother and Jason Pennycooke was also fine in his musical numbers.

But the score by Bon Jovi keyboard player David Bryan and book writer Joe diPietro is uninspired, synthetic soul music - yes, Beverley Knight was in excellent voice but when you are listening to the extent of her vocal prowess rather than taking in what she is singing then you know something is out of whack.  Sadly the character of Felicia is so milquetoast that it's difficult to engage with her on any level when she is not singing.

As is the way with the West End, the usual leading man Killian Donnelly was off the night we went - they just don't have the range you know - so we saw Jon Robyns who has impressed before in ROAD SHOW and AVENUE Q and while good in the role of Huey, he could do little to make an unlikeable character interesting.

So there you have it.  And you are welcome to it.

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