Matt in Memphis: The ‘Beale’ Deal
It’s Spring 2015. Matt has been in the studio on and off for months, working on Album 4. New music dropping seems a very real and imminent prospect. We are slightly giddy.
Then, in early May – a proper bombshell hits us out of the blue: Memphis. Scrambling slightly but regaining our wannabe journalistic composure, we soon find answers to the five W’s…
Who? Matt and Beverley Knight.
What? A multi-award-winning West End show.
Where? At London’s venerable Shaftesbury Theatre.
When? July 6 to October 31.
Why? Because it’s an incredible opportunity!
Turns out Matt’s name was put forward by Beverley Knight herself, the Queen of British Soul – and, some might argue, of the West End, too. A great vote of confidence for someone with no musical theatre experience. Like zero, zilch, nada.
So Matt tied up the remaining loose ends with the album and put it on the back burner to focus on the mammoth task of learning the part of Huey Calhoun. However, he did give us a taster of the new material at a few of the intervening gigs…
Soon Matt/Huey’s cheerful little face was plastered all over the capital and beyond. It greeted some of us as we stepped off the train on the first night, following us through the Underground and all the way to Shaftesbury Avenue (or should that be Beale Street?). Yep, this was really happening.
To say we weren’t nervous for Matt would be a lie, but any fears we may have had were quickly allayed as he truly inhabited the character. From the Southern drawl to the fancy footwork, it was all there – not to mention the ‘given’, that Matt would sing the roof off. Had we witnessed the birth of a West End star?
Since then, we have returned to Memphis – individually and in groups – and each time we can appreciate more of the performance, the production and the atmosphere in general. Without giving too much of the plot away, some highlights…
- The theatre – the price of each ticket includes a contribution to its restoration, and it truly is a classic beauty. It’s nice to ponder while waiting for the curtain to rise: What other productions have been staged here and who else has trod those boards in the century since it opened?
- The calibre and depth of the entire multi-talented cast, from Matt and Beverley through to the smallest roles – and seeing the show a few times, the ease with which they substitute for one another when necessary. It’s a well-oiled machine and Matt slots right in.
- The chemistry between Matt and Beverley – you can totally believe they are in love. And watching Matt ‘fireman lift’ her over his shoulder down a flight of stairs is pretty impressive!
- The story – the issue of racial discrimination is not an easy one to tackle without being heavy-handed, but Memphis succeeds through the music and the charm of its characters. There are a few genuinely shocking moments, though, and chances are you may need a tissue or two!
- And Huey is perhaps the most charming character of all (although Bobby and Huey’s mum Gladys give him a run for his money). Aside from his natural charm, Matt’s previously unknown acting chops come to the fore as he delivers some of the best/funniest lines. Some people have been surprised by Matt’s ability to get a laugh, but we’ve seen his awkward/goofy side before – one example being the storytelling between songs at Cyprus Ave. Cork in July last year…
(For the full gig: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2Cf-EapdFcxb_s9oqU3fDZaHst4mvTCV)
- Watching what Matt’s up to when not centre stage – jumping up on the store counter in Scratch My Itch or air-drumming whilst overseeing the action below in Radio.
- Memphis Lives In Me – Matt’s big number. The big note towards the end soars to the rafters, filling the room and sending chills down everyone’s spine. Roars of applause follow. Here is the first time Matt sang this in public…only in the middle of Trafalgar Square!
- Tear Down The House – Matt’s chance to really let loose (and lose half his clothes).
- On a related note, the ripple that goes through the audience during Matt’s gratuitous topless scene – those are abs of steel under Huey’s questionable fashion choices.
- Matt’s lower register (not a euphemism). Under-used in our opinion, it gets a great airing throughout the show. More please!
- Listening to people gush about Matt in the interval or after the show – especially those who are not familiar with him, frantically leafing through the programme to find out who he is or to learn more about him.
- The inevitable standing ovation and Matt looking so pleased/relieved – and staying to applaud the top-notch band at the end (we do love a band).
- The fact that Matt just seems to get better every time… and contemplating when our next trip to Memphis might be!
This review was written from the perspective of Matt fans, some of which are also into musical theatre and some… not so much. It’s been wonderful to read the thoughts of those who have come to see the show from a West End background – a few of our favourites…
Get your tickets to Beale Street here: http://memphisthemusical.com/