My First West End Theatre Experience – Memphis the Musical – Shaftesbury Theatre 26/09/15

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A new love of mine is musical theatre. Recently, I went up to London to see my first West End Musical. I have been a fan of Matt Cardle ever since he was on the X-Factor several years ago, and when I heard he had made it into the West End, I wanted to find out more. For those of you who do not know, Matt Cardle is currently in Memphis the Musical, starring alongside Beverley Knight. Luckily, one of my friends agreed to join me!

We arrived in London. As I looked over a busy road, I saw in bright shiny pink bold letters ‘MEMPHIS THE MUSICAL’. I was filled with such excitement. Unfortunately, a minute later, we found out that Matt Cardle was unable to perform. Whilst disappointing, this was not the sole reason for coming. His understudy, Jon Robyns, would take his place. We sat in the Royal Circle near the centre in the Shaftesbury Theatre. The view was perfect! I saw in front of me a pair of binoculars which you could use. I was intrigued and tempted. Apparently no one uses them and a dirty look from my friend said enough!

Memphis the Musical is set during the segregation-era of America. At this time, the ‘whites’ and ‘blacks’ had different music. A DJ, called ‘Huey’ (Matt Cardle), introduced ‘racial’ music (Blues and Gospel) to the ‘whites’ and it spread across Memphis (funnily enough!). He got a job on a radio station. With rising popularity, problems occurred by those who disagreed with his music. There is a girl ‘Felicia’ (Beverley Knight) whose voice he becomes a big fan of and promises to put her on the radio. A romance forms, which was not allowed at this time. His popularity continues to grow, but when he is given the option to go global, he declines. Felicia is offered the same and accepts it. Huey unfortunately screws things up and is left with nothing. Years later the two meet up again and we see that there may still be a future for them both.

As the show ended I felt overwhelmed – involving uncontrollable shaking, goose bumps and a mesmerised face! This was a first for me and friend was becoming genuinely worried! Memphis the Musical’s storyline was compelling though I often found myself lost in the story, which is hard considering I often lose concentration. I found it to present the harsh realities of the past whilst showing a new era of acceptance that we all hoped to see. It left me deep in thought, imagining how it must have felt to live in such times. My only disappointment was that the future of Huey and Felicia is unknown at the end.

Huey was a crazy character, but so damn loveable at the same time. He had a dream and persevered regardless of the many struggles he faced. Jon Robyns as Huey was breath taking. It must be hard taking on the role normally played by a celebrity, especially when the audience would have been disappointed to hear Matt Cardle was not performing. Then at the end, who praises their hard work? Very little (as I will explain when I talk about stage door). He portrayed the character really well, showing off Huey’s one-of-a-kind personality, dedication and triumph through this hard era. The song ‘Memphis lives in me’ is my favourite song and I cannot get it out of my head!

Beverley Knight has a truly stunning voice consisting of both power and meaning behind it especially in ‘Coloured Woman’. Also her accent was on-point. Roland Bell who played Delray (Felicia’s brother) sang ‘Underground’, which was spectacular to say the least and you really felt the deep over-protective brother figure looking out for his sister bond. In fact the whole cast were fantastic! The pit band finished after the cast and received a massive applause (and well deserved!). They too are often forgotten about, when in fact they play a key role yet receive very little acknowledgement for it. We quickly moved onto stage door.

Prior to this day I knew very little about stage door. As we waited outside around 20 people were there. Jon Robyns came outside, where immediately no one joined him. Everyone was waiting for Beverley Knight, which was shocking considering how amazing he was. We went over to speak to him. We took a picture and he signed our programme with a personalised message! I must admit I had a mental blank when asked about the spelling of my name. I guess I embarrassed myself, but who cares! You could tell he was appreciative and he deserved more recognition. Shortly afterwards Beverley Knight appeared. You could tell she was exhausted, but still found the energy to meet us all. She was really sweet! Finally we met Roland Bell, who was cool and we went on our way.

Although West End is still new to me, I really enjoyed my experience and plan on returning to see other shows. Memphis the Musical is without a doubt a phenomenal West End show and it is such a shame that it is closing on the 31st October 2015. The music is not something I would have ever considered, but for someone reason I love it. I am now a big fan of the show! Hockadoo!