Memphis: Shaftesbury theatre

Memphis: Shaftesbury theatre

This is a story of two young individuals in an era filled with discrimination, and it is a heartwarming and a beautiful one. With a cast of so many actors and actresses, the story remains fully committed to the two main characters. The story revolves around a talented black singer, Felicia (Beverley Knight) and Huey (Killian Donnelly), an aspiring DJ, who is attracted to Felicia’s talents. It is needless to say that Knight is well known for her overwhelming vocals. Although the rest of the cast members are excellent, their talents simply pale in comparison to Knight’s. However, Donnelly’s performance cannot be underestimated either and he certainly portrayed Huey’s character with perfection.

The book written by Joe DiPetro explores race discrimination in 1950s Memphis. Particular focus was placed on the difficulties faced by the Black community and how those associated with this community was perceived. Of course, although discrimination was particular prevalent in states such as Texas, Mississippi and Tennessee, the story also hinted that cities such as New York, where Black singers were more accepted, underlying racism remained an issue. This became especially apparent when a New York producer specified that they could not use Black dancers in a TV broadcast in fear of losing sponsors. Felicia and Huey’s budding romance played a central role in the story too, but the emphasis is without a doubt on the racial issues. Often, harsh racial comments and actions were quickly dismissed by Huey’s comedic but emotional reactions, essentially making fun of those who judge others by their colour. These actions are welcomed and applauded by the audience.

The care that went into set design of this musical is the best I have seen recently. From the actual set itself to the pedestrians passing by the bar in the opening number, each detail was polished and effectively managed.

Memphis is not your typical love story; it explores far deeper issues such as discrimination and the society as a whole. In fact, I believe the show would have been far less successful had it relied on the romance. I will be sad when Memphis closes in October. However, after seeing Knight and Donnelly’s performance today, I am eager to see their upcoming new roles. Knight will portray the role of Grizabella in the return of “Cats” and Donnelly will be taking up the role of Charlie Price in “Kinky Boots”.

Score: 3.5/5

Original review published on


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