I was very happy to attend the London launch of Memphis the Musical this morning at Ronnie Scott’s, after seeing it and loving it on Broadway over 4 years ago.
It was an early start to be going in to a jazz club, but as my eyes adjusted to the dark room from the bright sunshine in London – I felt a buzz of excitement in the room. What an appropriate place to launch such a soulful musical. Ronnie Scott’s is a lovely intimate and legendary venue – and they had pulled out all the stops for the launch.
When I took my seat all I really knew is that I would be seeing Killian Donnelly and Beverley Knight perform alongside writer of the music David Bryan from Bon Jovi. No other Cast had been announced.
As I glanced around the room I spotted some of the cream of the crop from the West End. Rachel John, Rolan Bell, Carly Mercedes Dyer, Waylon Jacobs, Helen Siveter, together with many other faces I have recently seen smashing different roles in the West End. So I was even more excited to see them join the cast of a musical I have been waiting to come to the West End.
As 11.00am came, with standing room only in Ronnie Scott’s, Joseph Smith one of the producers of the show came to the stage and welcomed us and the new cast of Memphis to the launch, he then announced that Magic FM were live-streaming today’s event and that Angie Greaves was hosting. For those of you that were not lucky enough to see the live-stream here is my brief account of the launch.
Angie came on to the stage and reiterated what we were all thinking; that this certainly was the right venue for the launch of Memphis as “you could feel soul bouncing off the walls”.
Angie then introduced David Bryan to the stage, David took a seat at the piano and started to sing and play “Music of my soul” from Memphis.
Watching David perform and listening to him sing – it is hard to believe he has been behind the keys in rock band Bon Jovi for all these years and not a leading vocalist. He shared so much emotion through his music, the audience were all listening intently and it felt very special hearing him perform the music he has composed for Memphis.
David then had a chat with Angie on the stage, recalling how he read the script for Memphis and instantly heard the music in his head, within the next 5 hours David had sent scriptwriter Joe Depietro a recorded demo of the music. Joe was back on the phone to David the next morning and a musical match made in heaven was born.
David describes the musical as “entertainment that matters” also saying it “celebrates what brings us all together” as the audience sees and feels the story unfold. David also says how blessed he feels to have Killian and Beverley in the show stating “they kill it” which was the perfect introduction for Beverley Knight coming on to the stage and doing just that.
Beverley sang “Coloured Woman” and as she sang I felt every word of that song. It was just Beverley and Tim Sutton (the musical director) on piano accompanying her, as I got goose-bumps. This music will sound even better with a full band, background vocals and harmonies, if that is even possible. The room went crazy after Beverley performed. Beverley then spoke about the difference between singing in pop concerts and doing musical theatre – with David Bryan sat by her side nodding along and smiling knowingly at exactly what she was talking about.
Killian was then introduced as “the boy with a voice”. Killian sang Memphis Lives In Me, again accompanied by the MD Tim Sutton. As Killian started to sing there was no longer a trace of the Irish lad as he transformed in to Huey Calhoun – just a boy from Tennessee – and the music is definitely ‘in him’.
Looking across at David and Beverly while Killian Was singing was magical, they were both totally lost in the music and looked so proud.
All the music in Memphis is original, and refreshing with rock and roll, soul and rhythm and blues all being represented.
I got to have a quick chat with Killian after the launch as the waiters passed around champagne to all, Killian told me how this is the first day he has met his new cast mates and it felt like a bit of a school disco as opposed to the normal first day of rehearsals; he is so excited to work and get to know them all. Killian is still in his role in The Commitments at present but he is busy learning his new script and tells me he is in contact with Chad Kimble who originated the role of Huey on Broadway.
Chad has been very helpful emailing him with lots of information he found useful about 50s DJs and a lot of the jargon they used. Killian joked that he has to talk fast for the part and this is why he probably got the role as he never shut up in the audition. I’m sure that was not the only reason.
The cast don’t start their rehearsals until August/ September so this was a nice chance for them to get to meet each other today and a fabulous opportunity for us to hear a taste of what is to come.
It was even more special that David Bryan could make it as he told me has been working on yet another musical with Joe DePietro and had flown in for a couple of days for this event.
Roll on October the 9th. I really hope people give this original musical a chance. It is a moving story inspired by true events from underground dance clubs in the 1950s Memphis with a love story but also a success story.
Memphis The Musical
Led by multi award-winning recording artist Beverley Knight as club singer ‘Felicia Farrell’ and stage star Killian Donnelly as radio DJ ‘Huey Calhoun’, with Rolan Bell as ‘Delray’, Tyrone Huntley as ‘Gator’, Claire Machin as ‘Gladys’, Jason Pennycooke as ‘Bobby’ and Mark Roper as ‘Mr. Simmons’, the full cast of MEMPHIS will include Keisha Atwell, Arielle Campbell, Mark Carroll, Joseph Davenport, Momar Diagne, Carly Mercedes Dyer, Kimmy Edwards, Hillary Elk, Laura Ellis, Charlotte Gorton, Benjamin Harrold, Waylon Jacobs, Rachel John, Dean Maynard, Devon McKenzie-Smith, Tim Newman, Simon Ray-Harvey, Jon Robyns, Ashley Rumble, Kyle Seeley, Helen Siveter, Dawnita Smith, and Alex Thomas.
Winner of four 2010 Tony Awards® including Best Musical, MEMPHIS has a Grammy® Award-winning original score by Bon Jovi founding member David Bryan and book by Joe DiPietro.
Inspired by true events from the underground dance clubs of 1950s Memphis, Tennessee, MEMPHIS follows the fame and forbidden love of a radio DJ who wants to change the world and a club singer who is ready for her big break.
“David Bryan evokes the powerhouse funk of James Brown, the hot guitar riffs of Chuck Berry, the smooth harmonies of the Temptations and the silken, bouncy pop of the great girl groups of the period” Charles Isleworth, New York Times.
Directed by Christopher Ashley and with Choreography by Sergio Trujillo, MEMPHIS has Scenic Design by David Gallo, Costume Design by Paul Tazewell, Lighting Design by Howell Binkley and Sound Design by the Olivier Award-winning Gareth Owen.
MEMPHIS is produced in London by Junkyard Dog Productions, Marleen and Kenny Alhadeff, Barbara Freitag, Joseph Smith and John Brant.
210 Shaftesbury Avenue
London, WC2H 8DP
Booking From: 9th October 2014
Booking Until: 28th March 2015
Evenings: Monday to Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees: Wednesday and Saturday 2.30pm
Running Time: 2 Hours 30 Minutes
Age Restrictions: Suitable for ages 11+