Album Review: Memphis (2014 Original London Cast Recording)

“Open your eyes, I got a surprise!”

It was fascinating to revisit Memphis, a show that I enjoyed on seeing but in all honesty, isn’t one I’ve given much thought to since it left the West End after just over a year at the Shaftesbury Theatre (I went back once). I remarked then that David Bryan’s score was “highly tuneful if not instantly catchy” so was surprised that a fair few of the songs had managed to work their way into my subconscious and so provided that ‘ping’ of recognition which is always nice.

It was also interesting to listen to the songs in isolation from the show, as more of them than I remembered felt somewhat disconnected from the narrative, just happy in their sprightly pop song-ness. And thanks to the quality of the cast assembled here – leads Beverley Knight and Killian Donnelly, supported by the likes of Jason Pennycooke, Tyrone Huntley and Rolan Bell plus Claire Machin, it is a consistently enjoyable record to listen to. Continue reading “Album Review: Memphis (2014 Original London Cast Recording)”

Re-review: Memphis, Shaftesbury

“Have a beer drop a time in the blind man’s jar”

Never one to look a gift-horse in the mouth, the offer of a return ticket to Memphis (the show, not the place sadly) was one I was happy to accept and I was glad for it too. The show remains a hugely impressive showcase for its cast and creatives whilst never quite engaging satisfactorily enough with its subject matter (see my original review here) but the overall effect is certainly one that is entertaining and should set the show up for a successful UK tour in 2016 after it finishes in the West End.

The main change has been the arrival of X Factor winner (and stone cold fox – who knew) Matt Cardle in the cast as Huey, replacing Killian Donnelly who has headed over to Kinky Boots. And as a musical theatre debutant, he is very good indeed, slipping into the role of the fast-talking, highly charismatic DJ with great ease, nailing an adorkable charm that is most appealing. It helps that he shares great chemistry with Beverley Knight as rising star Felicia, herself now off to the latest revival of Cats, further cementing her own MT reputation. Continue reading “Re-review: Memphis, Shaftesbury”

Review: Memphis, Shaftesbury Theatre

“Rock ‘n’ roll is just black people’s blues sped up”

Though much of the US civil rights movement’s achievements came through political means, this time of huge shift in American society was also underpinned by significant cultural change and it is this that the Tony-award-winning show Memphis focuses on, in exploring how white radio DJ Huey Calhoun sent shockwaves over the airwaves of this Southern city in the 1950s by ignoring the entrenched racial divisions and playing ‘race’ music for all to hear. And as rock and roll began to capture the attention of the nation, so too was Huey’s attention completely captured by the soulful energy of upcoming singer Felicia Farrell and the underground blues club in which she performs (which belongs to her brother).

That she is black and he is not doesn’t matter to him but it sure as hell does to everyone else (they may sing that ‘Everybody Wants To Be Black On A Saturday night’ but there are still laws preventing mixed marriage) and it is this that provides the dramatic heft to Joe DiPietro’s book, such as it is, to this musical that otherwise puts its focus squarely on the music. And what an unexpected place that music comes from – David Bryan, who just happens to be Bon Jovi’s keyboard player – has compiled a fully original score which pulls in influences from Motown-flecked pop, gospel, R&B and 80s power ballads naturally (I mean, look at the guy’s hair!) – it’s highly tuneful if not instantly catchy but delivered with the conviction it is here, it demands the attention and will doubtless reward relistening (if not rewatching as well ;-)) Continue reading “Review: Memphis, Shaftesbury Theatre”

Review: Viva Forever, Piccadilly Theatre

“Do you still remember, how we used to be…”

Producer Judy Craymer reinvigorated a whole new theatrical genre when she masterminded the ABBA jukebox hit Mamma Mia! to huge box-office success, and so proved the natural choice to steer a show featuring the back catalogue of the Spice Girls and a script by Jennifer Saunders into the West End. The resulting show – Viva Forever – is a story of a young woman who is forced to ditch her bandmates in pursuit of her reality show dreams, the mentor who is determined to exploit her in order to secure her own media career and her mother who is on hand to make sure she never forgets who she is. But it is one that doesn’t quite so much fill the Piccadilly Theatre with girl power as a sense of what might have been.

Crucially, the discography isn’t always sufficient for the task in hand of a jukebox musical. Delving into some of the lesser-known works of the Spice Girls isn’t as much as a problem (though front-loading them so is a curious choice as we have to wait a while for a stone-cold hit) as the way in which the lyrical content has to be shoehorned in, resulting in some awkward fits – ‘Say You’ll Be There’ suffers particularly here. But equally, there are moments that do work. The act 1 closer weaves together ‘Goodbye’, ‘Mama’ and ‘Headlines’ in a rather stirringly affecting manner as the three women reach crucial points in their journey; ‘Spice Up Your Life’ becomes a dazzling fiesta of a Spanish street festival; and the titular ‘Viva Forever’ is recast as a tenderly intimate acoustic ballad. Continue reading “Review: Viva Forever, Piccadilly Theatre”