Keith Strachan’s Dancing in the Streets is a record-spinning celebration of Berry Gordon’s legendary Motown label. The Ivor Novello Award winning director’s production attempts to revive the spirit of the sixties and seventies, welcoming prolific recreations of acts such as Smokey Robinson, The Temptations and Tina Turner to his stage.
Thankfully, the producers of the show have avoided the trap of crudely attaching a cheap storyline to a constant stream of recognisable hits. More of a concert than a staged musical, the evening is compered by a wise-talking and anecdotal janitor who engagingly leads the audience through the colourful history of one of music’s biggest record labels.
There is little delay in welcoming the acts onto the stage. Beginning with Motown’s first number one, Please Mister Postman by The Marvellettes, the production builds towards the grand finale of its title track. The scale and range of the acts in this spectacular cabaret is quite immense: in one moment, Diana Ross and the Supremes sashay across the stage in shimmering seafoam sequin dresses; the next, Levi Stubbs leads The Four Tops in a rousing rendition of Reach Out.
Capturing the onstage personas of some of music’s most legendary figures is no small task and, quite expectedly, this is executed with varying success. The production’s Stevie Wonder is particularly well observed, combining a near perfect vocal portrayal with an acute awareness of how the musician performed live. The instances where the illusion is not so complete are of no hindrance to the production, backed as they are by enjoyable performances of classic hits.
The low-key stage is illuminated by the production’s sense of movement and embrace of colour. Carole Todd’s sharp and sassy choreography mimics Motown’s unique rhythms, recreating symmetrical dance routines where charming girl groups wag their fingers and point that man towards the door. Disappointingly, Tony Priestley’s costuming is truly uninspiring in places yet glorious in others.
Whilst the opening act left the audience entertained but not over enthused, the show’s momentum builds greatly in the second. As Gladys Knight softly introduced her segment in one of her trademark pre-song monologues, the most wonderful thing happened within the audience. Singing gently in unison, the crowd swayed along to Help Me Make It Through the Night. The feeling of sedate, nostalgic contentment in the auditorium was as powerful as the lyrics of that beautiful song.
Once the audience had engaged so personally with the cast, the night truly came alive.
- Scott Purvis