Book and Lyrics: Joe DiPietro
Music and Lyrics: David Bryan
Reviewer: Sharon MacDonald-Armitage
“Coming at you from right smack in the centre of your radio dial” is the CD release of the Original London Cast recording of Memphis the Musical. Based on a concept by George W George, Memphis the Musical tells the story of Huey Calhoun, a white partially illiterate, slightly crazy, renegade DJ from 1950s Tennessee, who embraces the music of African-American culture. Through determination and promise, gets it played on mainstream radio rather than the acceptable all-black music stations. Based loosely on true events, this is told through the burgeoning love story of Huey and Felicia, a black singer from Beale Street, as they both deal with their love of music, love for each other and the laws and attitudes that keep them apart.
Beverly Knight has long been known as a great singer and has recently established herself as performer in The Bodyguard, Ain’t Nothin’ but a Kiss is delivered with a sassy attitude and soul voice, but it is her Coloured Woman that really reflects the issues of times, her love for a white man that is not to be in the deep south of 1950s America is sung with determination and emotion and a soulful growl that will make the hairs rise on the back of your neck. Love Will Stand When All Else Fails is an emotional ballad that Knight sings from the heart and sits nicely as a single that could have been recorded by Knight herself.
The stand out and star of this show is without doubt Killian Donnelly whose combination of humour and great vocals shines through. The opening track Underground sets the musical theme of vibrancy and a sight daring, a perfect opening ensemble number. Donnelly’s entrance number Music of My Soul is both funny and pertinent as the scene is set for the conflicts to come warning about not going, “to the dark side of town” and “white should stay with white” a theme that runs throughout.
Support is given by established West End performers including the deep rich voice of Roland Bell as Delray, club owner and Felicia’s brother, Claire Machin as Gladys, Huey’s loving but bigoted mother and Jason Pennycooke as Bobby Dupree his rendition of Big Love which is full of rhythm, piano riffs and humour.
The show-stopping moment is however reserved for Donnelly with his rendition of Memphis Lives in Me; I defy anyone not to be moved by this version of the song. The soaring vocals and last big money note more than establish Donnelly as a true leading man. The final whole cast show number Steal Your Rock ‘n’ Roll leaves you with a happy upbeat feeling. As an added bonus a different version of Memphis Lives in Me by David Bryan, one of the original members of Bon Jovi and the writer of Memphis the Musical is included.
This is an album that any Musical Theatre loving person must have in their collection, there are enough powerful songs and stonking ballads to satisfy even the most non Musical Theatre enthusiast. From upbeat numbers Everyone Wants to be Black on a Saturday Night to the bouncy Someday and slightly country edged Radio this powerhouse cast recording is filled with 21 tracks of stellar performances and worth every single penny… Go and buy it now… Hockadoo!
Memphis is released on First Night Records.