The crowd nearly sang the doors off the Grand Theatre in Blackpool last Saturday when the cast of London’s West End’s Dancing in the Streets came roaring through like a steam train.  Leo Ihenacho (also known as Leo the Lion), who last graced our screens as one of Kylie Minogue’s contestants on The Voice led the show. Previously, Leo had been a member of the urban hip-hop collective out of Birmingham, known as The Streets. But for one night only at the Grand Theatre, Leo was all Marvin Gaye, a little bit Jimmy Ruffin, and 100% Motown! The hot chocolate tones of his vocals were completely at home with tunes like Edwin Starr’s War and Marvin Gaye’s How Sweet it is to be Loved by You, in which one lucky lady Debby Williams (of Chester) was serenaded by Leo himself, taking full advantage of her moment in the spotlight.

But the show wasn’t all about Leo transporting us back to his 1960s version of romance (although some of the ladies in the audience wouldn’t mind if it was), the Dancing in the Streets cast of singers and their supporting band brought a celebration to the Grand, a celebration of the sensation that is known as ‘that Motown sound’.

Motown was the first black owned record label in the United States, founded in 1959 by Berry Gordy in Detroit, Michigan (also known as Motor City, a nod to its origin as the centre of the American automotive manufacturing industry).  For more than three decades, the artists of Motown crafted a very specific type of soul music, known all over the world for its unique ability to bring together young and old, white and black, rich and poor.  At the height of Motown’s popularity, America was a divided country. Artists like Smokey Robinson and the Pips, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, and Martha and the Vandellas were able to transcend racial, social, and cultural division and bring people together through music – and it shows even today.

Dancing in the Streets brought the most diverse crowd I’ve seen at the Grand to their feet, dancing in the aisles and singing some of the most loved tunes of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. The crowd embraced familiar, beloved songs such as Baby Love, I Heard it Through the Grapevine, and of course the title track, Dancing in the Streets, which served as a phenomenal finale number.  So much so that the crowd demanded more and the full cast returned with an encore performance of Aint No Mountain High Enough.

In a nutshell, Dancing in the Streets does what it’s supposed to do. It wraps us up in a big ball of nostalgic cotton wool, forces us to leave the most boring versions of ourselves at the door and demands that we find our inner cool. And who doesn’t want to do that on a Saturday night in Blackpool? So, come on, let me see you shake a tail feather!

  • Tammara is an American writer and poet living in Lancashire who is interested in all things creative. Current projects include a manuscript of prose poems that explore place, race, femininity, poverty, and motherhood; profiles of new and emerging artists; and freelance articles and reviews concerned with the art scene in the Northwest of England.

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