A Melbourne based writer who is a travel junkie, dedicated foodie and emerging photographer.
Seriously, don't miss this brilliant production
Memphis the Musical opened last night at Chapel off Chapel. If I could swear on this website, I would - this show is just so *darned ridiculously* good. Well, you get the idea. I don't use the word 'brilliant' lightly - but Memphis is, indeed, brilliant.
You may think it's difficult to be captivated by a musical when the songs are not familiar, and the cast not necessarily well known, but we were under Memphis the Musical's spell from the start. Wow, wow, wow!
Hughie Colhoun (James Elmer) in the spotlight
Broadly, Memphis is set in the 1950s and focuses on a white radio DJ - Huey Calhoun (James Elmer). With 'music in his soul' - more specifically 'coloured' music, which at the time is deemed unfit to broadcast on 'white' radio stations in Tennessee - he walks into a 'coloured' bar, attracted by the music being sung Felicia Farrell (Elandrah Eramiha-Feo). Felicia is understandably skeptical when Huey promises that he will broadcast her music across Tennessee.
The radiant Elandrah Eramiha-Feo as Felicia Farrell
The plot is loosely based on the life of Dewey Phillips, one of the first radio DJs to play 'black' music on a 'white' station, and the first to broadcast Elvis Presley's music, in 1954.
The story is quickly established in Memphis, and from the outset, the show is a series of big, bold rock 'n' roll mixed with soul musical numbers - in fact, no fewer than 27 songs in all. As I said earlier, I was unfamiliar with the music, but its rhythms are infectious, and it's hard not to tap along.
The two leads are outstanding in their roles. Elmer has an extensive background as a dancer, actor and musician, having TV credits in Australia's Got Talent and So You Think You Can Dance, and having made his stage musical debut in 2015. His performance as Huey is solid throughout, taking us on the ride through his highs and lows towards a hopeful, if not exactly happy, ending.
But it is Elandrah Eramiha-Feo as Felicia who had me reaching for the program to learn more about her. Her performance belies her relative lack of theatre experience - she absolutely RADIATES on stage. She has so much of that elusive quality of 'stage presence' that it is palpable. I almost felt sorry for the other cast members; it's as though they are standing in the shade when Felicia is around. I can only see a bright future ahead for this talented woman.
The energy flows throughout this captivating show
The two leads are supported by five actors in secondary roles, plus a dance/choral ensemble of 12. Another aspect of Memphis I really enjoyed is that there is a series of surprises from the cast throughout. I don't want to say too much about this - let's keep the surprises surprising! - but suffice to say there is amazing depth and talent in this group. Mandi Lodge as Gladys Calhoun (Huey's mother), for example, made her larger than life role her own, and Nik Murillo dazzled as Bobby Dupree.
The singing - not just from the leads - was so good that I got goosebumps numerous times during the show.
The performance concluded with a well-deserved standing ovation.
If I could make one change to Memphis, it is that I'd transport it to a bigger venue! It's so good that it should be playing to audiences of a few thousand instead of a few hundred. Plus, the amazing dancers - though they made great use of the available space - deserve a bigger working area. Arts Centre Melbourne take note.
Five stars. Don't miss it!
Memphis the Musical plays at Chapel off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran from Wednesday to Sunday until 28th October (check the website for session times).
Tickets start from $49 (plus booking fee). Click here to purchase your tickets online, or call Chapel off Chapel on (03) 8290 7000.
Running time is 2.5 hours (including a 20 minute interval). The show is suitable for all ages.