Dancing in the Streets
Compiled and directed by Keith Strachan
In 1959 when Berry Gordy borrowed $800 to start his own record company in Detroit, he could not have known he was starting a revolution. Tamla Motown blazed the trail for today's chart-topping black artistes by bringing black music into white homes for the first time. Dancing in the Streets is a celebration of this story.
After a gentle start where the narrator, played by Ray Shell, sets the scene, the show bursts into action with Motown's first Number One Hit by the Marvelettes, "Please Mister Postman". The next two hours are sustained by hit after Motown hit, including favourites like "You can't hurry Love", "Tears of a Clown" and "What becomes of the Broken Hearted".
Keith Strachan's direction ensures that there is no time for Motown to rest on its laurels as Shell's narration segues easily from one artiste to the next, dishing out snippets of information about each one and also finding time to interact with the audience (even to the extent of chiding the hapless latecomers - "Why are latecomers always white? I always thought only black people were late").
Paul Hazel gave an assured performance as Smokey Robinson and the yellow satin shirts they were wearing did not diminish the pathos of songs such as as "Tracks of my Tears"
The set, designed by Sean Cavanagh, resembled a recording studio and bore photos of the stars, but was intimate enough to suggest a club during the slower numbers, such as "Three Times a Lady".
The costume designers Tony Priestly and Barbara Williams captured the era perfectly, recreating the glamour of the Supremes (the snow-white fur-trimmed dresses in the first act were a sight to behold) and the pre-boyband uniformity of the Four Tops. Martha Reeves and the Vandellas were suitably garbed in the slightly raunchier trouser suits.
Roger Wright, as Marvin Gaye, was a triumph in a white suit singing "How Sweet it is to be Loved by You" and there was a poignant moment during his duet with Tammy Tyrrell as the narrator reminded the audience they both died prematurely. The first act ended with Jimmy Ruffin's "What becomes of the broken hearted" but it begged the question: how would the second act follow all that?
Of course there was one big act that had yet to play - The Temptations, and they didn't disappoint. Carole Todd's choreography really came to the fore here during their litany of hits, "My Girl", "I wish that it would Rain" and their duet with the Supremes "I'm gonna make you love me".
The second act had less narration, but the audience had lost their customary reserve and joined in. Roger Wright's rendition of Gaye's "Heard it through the grapevine" brought them to their feet. And there was no escape, because Ben Cracknell's lighting design ensured that the audience were lit and visible. Any spoilsport not joining in was liable to be picked out by the beady-eyed Ray Shell!
Siam Hurlock bore a remarkable resemblance to Diana Ross. Though at times she perhaps concentrated too much on Ross's mannerisms (sweeping her trademark long hair back), she and fellow performers Jacqui Zvimba and Paula Kay captured the essence of the Sixties Group and we could understand why they were such a runaway success for their time. They were particularly effective with the 1965 hit "Stop in the Name of Love". Nathaniel Morrison gave us a good rendition of Stevie Wonder, especially "Signed Sealed Delivered".
There is something of a glut of retrospective tributes in the West End at the moment (Billie Holiday, Ray Charles) and the question remains whether they are just nostalgia shows trading on the names of the originals. However, the production of Dancing in the Streets is a template for a good evening's entertainment on its own and is not just an imitation of a long-past era.
Reviewer: Bronagh Taggart