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Posts Tagged ‘Beverley Knight’

Another catch-up courtesy of a January offer, and not really what I was expecting at all. The pastiche score, by Bon Jovi’s David Bryan, the singing, the brilliant band and the dancing actually blew me away. I don’t think it’s as successful as a narrative musical, but as a purely musical experience it’s terrific.

They probably won’t like me for saying that it treads similar ground to Hairspray. That show was about the evils of segregation too, but in the world of the TV pop shows of 60’s Baltimore. This one’s in 50’s Memphis, but the underlying theme is the same, even though the treatment and style are very different. Memphis does benefit from taking place during the birth of rock and roll, though, and I have fond memories of visiting the city and visiting clubs on Beale Street ten years ago, so it resonates with me more.

Huey is a bit of a loser until he finds his vocation as a rebel DJ, his radio show quickly becoming No.1 in Memphis and graduating to his own TV show. He visits a black only club, which is as unacceptable as a black man visiting a white club, where he meets singer Felicia, who becomes friend, muse and ultimately lover. Their relationship is fraught with problems caused by segregation – she can’t appear on his show and they can’t be seen together in public (mixed marriage was illegal in some states, such as Tennessee, less than 50 years ago!). They both get opportunities to go to the bright lights of the north, but the price is too high for principled Huey and Felicia heads for the big time alone, despite the prejudice, while Huey heads back to his now ailing radio show.

I first saw Beverley Knight a  year ago in The Bodyguard and she impressed me greatly, as she does here. The West End needs to hang on to her. He’d done a lot before, though I didn’t know that, but Killian Donnelly really arrived with a bang in The Commitments in 2012 and he tops this with an even more sensational performance. In an excellent supporting cast, Jason Pennycooke gives yet another of his superb cameos. The ensemble is outstanding, with the dancing particularly thrilling.

The music and narrative aren’t joined up enough to make thoroughly satisfying musical theatre, but musically it’s simply wonderful.

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I’ve never seen the film, I’m not that fond of the music of Whitney Houston and I don’t know much about leading lady Beverley Knight. ‘So why did you go, and 14 months into the run too?’ I hear you ask. Well, it’s the ‘January sales’ (36% off best seats & no fees), it’s January (nothing much happens) and the Sharrock-Hatley creative team are favourites of mine. Enough of the excuses; it’s rather good.

Celebrity diva Rachel Marron is being stalked, so ‘her people’ hire a bodyguard but don’t tell her why. When he starts restricting her movements, she rebels, but she soon learns why she’s got a bodyguard and not only accepts this, but falls for him too. Rachel’s sister Nicki fancies him as well, but he’s just another one of the things Rachel gets that she doesn’t. Their brief dalliance is ended by the bodyguard as he realises he can’t be both boyfriend and bodyguard successfully. The stalking continues to its tragic conclusion.

It’s hardly ground-breaking stuff, but it gets a production way beyond the one it deserves. Thea Sharrock is an unlikely choice of director, but she does a terrific job, handling both the romance and the tension equally well. Tim Hatley’s design is superb, moving from LA mansion to back-of-beyond log cabin via clubs, theatres & concert venues ever so slickly. Mark Henderson’s lighting is simply brilliant.

You can tell Beverley Knight is a singer rather than an actor, but given the demands of these songs, that’s just as well; I thought she was excellent. Tristan Gemmill plays the non-singing role of the bodyguard as ice cool professional with great presence. I loved Carole Stennett as sister Nicki, and the boy who plays Rachel’s 10-year old son (one of four, so I know not who) does so with great confidence.

For a show that has been going this long, it’s remarkably fresh (though this cast is fairly new) and it’s way better than other film-to-stage shows like Dirty Dancing. A rather pleasant January surprise.

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