Can there be a record label more suitable for the ‘jukebox musical’ treatment than Tamla Motown? The music, the artists, the energy...it’s pure musical gold and after three years in the West End this latest production of Dancing In The Streets hits the road.
For anyone with a short attention span, relax. There’s no storyline at all. Instead it’s one hit after another...each a bone fide classic. It sounds obvious (and it is) but the success of this show stands and falls on the quality of the cast and musicians. The music of Motown is so ingrained in the public’s musical heart and soul that anything less than a top notch performance risks becoming at best amateur cabaret and at worst bad karaoke. Happily all of tonight’s artists tread this high wire pretty successfully with some truly memorable performances, notably Martha Reeves and the Vandellas Nowhere To Run (even better than the original perhaps), Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s You’re All I Need and roof raising ensemble renditions of River Deep Mountain High, Dancing In The Street and show closer Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.
The whole show’s linked together by veteran West End star Ray Shell as a janitor kind of dude, frequently appearing with a broom to brush up the stage (I guess it saves paying a cleaner at the end of the night). Bantering with the audience he’s the playful heart of the piece, providing neat little breaks between the almost relentless flood of hits. There’s no scrimping here, the cast get through dozens of tracks (literally), albeit often in slightly truncated forms. It’s the only way to do it in a couple of hours and I’m guessing that’s what the audiences want...all killer, no filler.
Choreography and costumes were always crucial to Motown live shows and the producers have wisely invested just as much time and energy into getting these just right. The Supremes’ outfits in particular were every bit as glam as the originals and all the tracks came with the right dance moves, bravely attempted by certain members of the audience...yes...me included. I have no shame. Always fancied myself as a Vandella...
The live band did a great job of recreating the music too, better perhaps on the more complex, slower stuff than the punchy horn driven tracks but, short of inventing a time machine and dragging the original Funk Brothers into the 21st century, you’re ain’t never going to get that back.
The elitist musical purist in me (go on...admit it...there’s a little of that in all us) always wants to dismiss shows like this, but it’s frankly impossible. It’s an amazing night of classic music performed by some truly talented singers that well and truly (Four) Tops your expectations. Go see.