DANCING IN THE STREETS
Cambridge Theatre, London WC2
Opened 19 July, 2005
**

This faux-Motown revue isn't a stage musical in any reasonable sense of the term. There's some desultory patter from MC Ray Shell (every other word of which is "baby"), but mostly it's simply a case of introducing the dozen other performers who, in various permutations, costumes and wigs, impersonate The Supremes, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles and so on. The music just keeps coming I counted 24 numbers in the hour-long first half alone. And the songs are, of course, epochal... although including "River Deep, Mountain High" is cheating a bit (it was originally a Phil Spector production, only later covered by The Supremes and The Four Tops), and "Three Times A Lady" leads to the inevitable mass audience karaoke.

But the core question is why? The West End success of their other musical assemblage The Rat Pack is no doubt reason enough for the producers, but that show at least has characterisations that reach beyond the songs. Here, young Nathaniel Morrison (not even graduated yet from drama school) captures both the moves and the particular style of vocal coloratura of the young Stevie Wonder, and Alana Maria and Roger Wright are costumed impressively as Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye respectively, although the latter's voice is a touch on the abrasive side for Mr "Let's Get It On". But that's as far as it goes.

Where's the fun in watching people who patently aren't the real thing? No mortal man can sing as smoothly as Smokey, and I'm not sure that "The Temptations" here even divvy up the lead vocals properly. Any attempt at authentic appearance ends with the singers; guitarist and percussionist Kevin Oliver Jones doesn't so much resemble a Motown sessioneer as one of psychobilly band The Cramps.

At various times in its years-long life, the cast has included Martha Reeves and Edwin Starr themselves, but without them it's just a fun factory efficient, but automated. We glimpse the truth when Shell works us up for the mandatory encores: "You wanna hear some more?" he teases; "well, you got any more money?" Oh, and one last tiny point as regards accuracy: Martha and the Vandellas were dancing in the street, singular. It may help to get the damned title right.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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