Magic of Motown in motion

Dancing in the Streets

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

****

When it comes to popular music, then no other single word like Pop or Rock can encapsulate a sound, a time,  a place or a specific group of artists as Motown can.

In 1959 with just 7,000 dollars, Berry Gordy Jr laid down the foundation of what has since been called the greatest record label in the world, Tamla Motown Records.

Over the next two decades Motown became a major industry force but by the late 70s the label had begun to fade as a new brand of soul, funk and disco began to dominate.

During that twenty years at the top Motown had created some of the most memorable, enduring music and a long list of international superstars, whilst changing the way soul music was perceived forever.

Dancing in the Streets takes its name from the Martha and the Vandellas 1964 hit of the same name.

It's no so much a musical as walk through time of those exiting Motown years, introducing us to a pretty authentic portrayal of most of their greatest acts.

People like Stevie Wonder, The Marvelettes, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terrell and The Four Tops.

We don't get to find out an awful lot about them as it's the music that is at the forefront of every stop on this magical tour through America's soulful musical history.

The unmistakable Stevie Wonder

This is a true ensemble piece with the every member of the cast doubling at sometime as a lead artist or backing vocalist within yet another Motown super group.

There are couple of instances where you are reminded of a `Stars in Your Eyes' type scenario, but what I liked most was that overall the vocalists just deliver the songs in their own singing voice. Vocal imitation is not necessary as the detail to the costumes and sharp dance moves of the time were more than enough to give you a real impression and a true flavour of the Motown era.

The 10 piece band, that formed a large part of the backdrop and setting, were just missing the raw loose flavour of the early Motown works opting for a more conservative precision in their playing

Everyone seemed locked to the sheet music and with so much life and energy in the casts performance, their concentration on the notes seemed the direct opposite to what was happening in front of them.

It took pretty much half the show for them to let go and get going but when they did the party started, the roof was raised and the audience were on their feet dancing.

There are no dramatic detours in Dancing In the Streets, just Motown hit after hit, song after song. All delivered with a superb authenticity and often comparable to the original artists.

Unfortunately popular music has now been reduced to auto tuned vocals with song writing that is often nothing more than a collection of programmed electronic sounds. As a comparison its worth going to see Dancing in the Streets just to experience the true legacy of the Motown sound and to remind us exactly what it is musically we are all missing out on.

Jeff  Grant  

Meanwhile shuffling on the pavement

*****

WHAT a fantastic show this is! Motown music at its best, delivered by a superb cast of men and women who clearly love what they are doing.

There isn't a dull moment as hit after hit is delivered with an energy and enthusiasm that delighted the first night audience.

The oh, so casual opening doesn't quite prepare you for the blistering programme to follow. Ray Shell, who created the role of Rusty in the original West End production of Starlight Express, strolls through the curtains in overalls and with a broom in his hands and chats to the customers.

Ray is a ray of sunshine throughout, first as narrator then performer, introducing some of the numbers with authority and humour, then demonstrating what a splendid voice he has, too.

The other ten singers have a remarkable range of abilities in singing as The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Lionel Ritchie and Marvin Gaye. They excelled in such memorable numbers as Baby love, Please Mr Postman, Reach Out I'll be There and Stop in the Name of Love.

The cast looked great and sounded great, and the last half hour of the show could have been re-named Dancing in the Seats as the audience, who cheered virtually every song, were on their feet swaying, clapping and singing.

Oh, and the eight-piece band, on stage and visible, were superb too.

Dancing in the Streets, on tour after three successful years in the West End, runs to 28-.04-12

Paul Marston 

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