The Genius of Ray Charles

This show has now closed, click here for a listing of current and future London shows

Previewed 16 June 2005, Opened 20 June 2005, Closed 13 August 2005 at the Haymarket Theatre in London

The smash hit American production of The Genius of Ray Charles in London for a strictly limited season.

Ray Charles will be remembered as an innovator - a singer and pianist who fused gospel with the blues and a pioneer of soul music - now this musical revue The Genius of Ray Charles celebrates his life and music. Devised by David King and directed and choreographed by Gary Lloyd.

Ray Charles was never one to pay attention to musical boundaries. Born in the deep South, raised on gospel, blues, country, jazz and big band, he forged these contrasting styles into something all his own. The Genius of Ray Charles comes to London's West End direct from the USA and features a 15-piece orchestra, six Broadway singers and ten British dancers performing such classics as 'Georgia On My Mind', 'Hit The Road Jack', 'I Can't Stop Loving You' and 'Unchain My Heart'. "I was born with music inside me. That's the only explanation I know of," Charles said in his 1978 autobiography. "Music was one of my parts... like my blood. It was a force already with me when I arrived on the scene. It was a necessity for me, like food or water."

"The audience was raring to clap in recognition, if not time, with the first few bars of each tune. The two-hour show took the form of a narrative-less succession of 35 songs performed loudly and energetically by six main singers (two plump men and one thin, two thin women and one plump; three-piece suits for one, spangly dresses for the other) to the accompaniment of an on-stage 16-piece orchestra and a cruiseship-style troupe of dancers. Stage decoration was modest, extending little beyond coloured lighting effects and a cocktail glass or two on the lid of the piano of Barry Robinson, pianist and on-stage musical director... Most of the audience (on its feet for the last three songs, arms raised, whooping a little) seemed to love it." The Sunday Telegraph

"The punters on the opening night, who treated the show as a party, clapping their hands (often out of synch) and dancing in the aisles as if this was the man himself rather than a very pale shadow. Who knows, perhaps they preferred this sanitised concert to the Charles of the recent movie, a heroin-addicted womaniser who littered the land with his bastard children. Occasionally a song is given a bit of a context with a hat or a pair of two-tone shoes, or a cocktail bar with a couple of stools. But the prevailing mood is one of forced cruise-ship jollity, emphasised by a group of raunchy dancing girls in spangly mini-dresses with pace but no grace." The Mail on Sunday

"The genius of Ray Charles, who sadly died last year, was to borrow songs from a wide range of singers and songwriters. He picked everyone, from the Beatles to Peggy Lee, but made them uniquely his own at the piano. This play is definitely not genius. The problem is that not only have most of us in the audience never properly known Ray Charles but nor apparently has most of the cast. The loudest sound you'll hear is that of Charles himself spinning in his grave. At its best, which this minimalist compilation only very occasionally is, it resembles one of those tribute singalongs you find on downmarket ocean liners. What they seem to go for is minimal scripting, sparse choreography and an apparent belief that if you assemble diehard fans in sufficient quantities they will do most of your work for you... What is missing here, ironically when you consider its subject, is any sense of soul. We get a retread of Ray Charles's most famous numbers, but no real sense of who he was or why he mattered or what made him special." The Daily Express

"A specialist in easy-listening spectacle King clearly knows his market. But within the limitations of the genre, his stage tribute to Charles has plenty going for it. Seasoned fans of the great man's music won't get an awful lot out of the juke-box presentation, but then the show is not really designed for them. People who know only two or three of the hits, on the other hand, will get a crash course in one of the pioneers of American music. And if I were a music teacher hoping to show 16-year-olds that there is more to pop than drum machines and crazy frogs, I would consider making a mass booking straight away... Given that the West End has been awash with anonymous tribute shows, I hesitate to welcome another into town. But there is at least a spark to this one." The Times

"The Genius Of Ray Charles is such a pathetic tribute show that poor old Ray, who died a year ago, would rightly be mortified. Riding on the coat-tails of Ray, the movie, it unfortunately lacks anyone with the charisma of Jamie Foxx who played the title role. In fact, with the possible exception of the affable Ken Prymus, it lacks anyone with the charisma of a bloated herring. The on-stage presence of a strident 13-piece band, sundry dancers and back-up singers doesn't help the show much. Neither does a horrendous version of John Lennon's Imagine. Lennon's probably spinning in his grave, too." The Sun

The Genius of Ray Charles in London at the Haymarket Theatre previewed from 16 June 2005, opened on 20 June 2005 and closed on 13 August 2005.