Memphis - The Musical
The story focuses on Huey Calhoun, a white disc jockey, loosely based on the real life Dewey Phillips, who kicks off a revolution in this racially divided city in the mid fifties by playing black music on a white radio station. He meets and falls in love with Felicia, a black R and B singer, which causes outrage in the community and upsets her brother and his mother. True love, needless to say, doesn't run smooth and his desire to stay in Memphis conflicts with her ambition to become a star. Racial segregation in Memphis is a constant theme and this is the dramatic background that brings the story to life.
It's the excitement of the performances, the commitment of the cast and the slickness of the production that make the show work. The main stars are Beverley Knight and Matt Cardle, both stars in their own right, but the show I saw featured their alternates Rachel John and Jon Robyns, both of whom were excellent. I was particularly impressed with Rachel's Felicia.
I have been a regular visitor to Memphis over the last few years and I will be there again in a few weeks time. It had a strangely downbeat feel to it when I first went there in 1989 - as though it had been forgotten, with a near derelict downtown. I've seen some changes for the better since then, but the city still looks a bit down at heel and has a racial divide which means that whites don't go to black clubs and vice versa. Yet whenever I've visited black juke joints such as Wild Bill's, in a black area of the city, I've been made to feel most welcome. Even back in 1989, when I first went to Beale Street, I was treated like an honored guest when I went to an exclusively black club.
The show manages to pick up on that division and, even though the music is all wrong - especially a couple of X Factor style numbers in the second half - there's enough of a feel for the atmosphere of the city to dispel any lack of belief. It's a joyous show, yet I was moved at times, and I know quite a few others in the Woodies party who attended - most of whom have been to Memphis at least once - felt the same way. Highly recommended.