Motown Records (also referred to as Hitsville), brought black music into white homes, and turned African American culture into a commoditised phenomenon that could be consumed by the masses - one which as this show proves, is still popular to this very day.
Directed by the Ivor Novello award-winning, Keith Strachan, Dancing In The Streets begins with an impromptu audience warm up from the evening’s compeer, a former soundman of the Hitsville era, who introduces the singers in a fragmented narrative, which sees the performers belting out such classics as, Smokey Robinson’s ‘Tracks of My Tears’, Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get it On’, and Motown’s first number one hit by The Marvelletes, ‘Please Mister Postman’.
Perhaps realizing that much of the audience is familiar with this back catalogue, Strachan leaves little room for dialogue, choosing instead to have the company belt out favourite, after favourite in relentless bursts of splendour. This bravado is a testament to Motown’s popular success. Indeed, music producer Gordy was renowned at the time for capitalizing on this unique brand of soul, R&B, and pop music.
Unfortunately, the company recruited to execute these numbers vary in their capabilities. Some, such as Sharn Adela manage to portray their divergent characters with both vocal, and physical mastery, whilst others seem more like caricatures than sincere recreations. One scene for instance finds a company member attempting a somewhat cringeworthy impersonation of Stevie Wonder.
These stereotypical clichés could have been avoided had the production team decided to capitalize on the talent of their performers, as opposed to modelling them on original Motown idols. For instance, in the motion picture, Dreamgirls (which depicts this very era), pop star, Beyonce can be found putting her own spin on what is clearly a re-imagining of Diana Ross and The Supremes.
Still, despite this, Dancing In The Streets is a popular concert-style performance, boasted by timeless songs, thoughtful stage design by Sean Cavanagh, and solid choreography from Carole Todd. If you are a fan of the Motown era, then I thoroughly recommend this performance. It might even have you on your feet by the end of the night.
*Picture courtesy of flyingmusic.com