A couple of weeks ago we were invited to attend an exclusive rehearsal of one of London's newest musicals, the West End premiere of Motown the Musical. We were able to meet the cast and creative team and also watch an energetic final rehearsal before the company moved into the Shaftesbury Theatre to begin tech and dress rehearsals.
As the show has recently started preview performances at the Shaftesbury, audiences are currently enjoying what is sure to be one of the most exciting new musicals this year.
Watch our video from the rehearsal by clicking below:
Direct from a successful run on Broadway, Motown the Musical features a book by the father of Motown music Berry Gordy, and draws on a score of over 60 hit songs from artists such as Diana Ross, The Temptations, Marvin Gay and Stevie Wonder. Audiences relive their favourite hits whilst seeing the story behind the music, and the hard work and determination each of the acts, and Mr Gordy himself, dedicated to the global music brand.
Taking over the whole of Shoreditch Town Hall, the Motown company extended into every one of the building's cavernous rooms, from production offices that house set models and diagrams to music rooms for last minute note bashing and vocal rehearsal. In the main room, the cast, creative team and small rehearsal band were assembled, running specific areas of the show in preparation for a full run later in the day.
Motown cast in rehearsal
Having spoken with many of the cast, we were told that a lot of the show has been rehearsed in isolation, with set pieces and numbers put together with the music and choreography, and the company were excited to see each element now fall into place. For a show that features so many musical moments, the singing is spread out amongst the 30 strong ensemble, meaning that everyone within the production gets a chance to shine.
Sitting down to watch the exclusive rehearsal, you could feel the energy beating off the walls. Dancers warmed up and rehearsed last minute changes in the make-shift wings along with the choreographer, whilst the rehearsal band checked levels and the stage manager ran through set changes with the dummy set items. For many in the room, the run through marked a significant milestone in the production that has been in preparation for many months in order to get everything and everyone ready for their first public preview on 11 February.
The director of the production Charles Randolph-Wright welcomed us to the rehearsal and explained that this preview has been designed to show off a number of key moments from the production. He commended the hard work of the whole company, and you could feel how excited everyone in the room was to feel everything finally coming together in front of a small audience. Without giving too much away, Randolph-Wright gave some background information regarding the numbers we were about to watch and some context for the show as a whole.
Motown cast in rehearsal
He spoke of how exciting it was to work with a hugely British ensemble, saying that many in America doubted that the production team would be able to find a suitable British cast to cover each of the roles. Despite a number of Americans within the company, such as Cedric Neal who plays Mr Gordy himself, the majority of the cast is made up of British performers - many of which are having their West End debut with the production.
We spoke to Cedric Neal about the casting of British talent, and he told us how important it was that the show supported British performers:
"For me and our creative team – they were told that they would not be able to find a black British cast for Motown and that it would be a challenge. But when they came over here and they auditioned they found their Lucy St Louis and their Sifizos. 98% of the cast is British and the one guy who is playing the lead who now lives in London is an American. Berry Gordy always tells this story of 1961/2 when Motown came to London and how it opened up the world for Motown and the superstars, and I think this show is doing the same thing for the British talent that's in it. I don't think London is ready for it, but as we say in the show – you better get ready!"
Following such an exciting rehearsal, I can confidently say that London is certainly ready for this Broadway hit, and with previews already up and running, we can't wait for the official opening night.