Motown The Musical, packed with great songs from legends such as Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross, is now running at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London's West End. We chatted with Cedric Neal, who plays Motown founder Berry Gordy.
BR: Bona Ruocco
CN: Cedric Neal
BR: Tell us about yourself and your background...
CN: I'm originally from Texas and have been a UK resident since October 2014. Before I moved here I had been in two Broadway productions: 'Porgy and Bess' and then 'After Midnight' which got nominated for seven Tony Awards, winning for Best Choreography.
BR: I don't know how old you are and you don' have to disclose your age (!), but do you have any childhood memories of Motown?
CN: I won't disclose my age (laughs)... I'll just say that I'm old enough to appreciate Motown in all of its glories! How about that?!
CN: But I will say this, I'm from Texas, my parents have four children - three boys and a girl, and I come from a singing family. My dad sings. My dad's first cousin is Sam Cooke. And my mom was a singer – she sounded just like Aretha Franklin. My favourite Motown act or group is The Temptations, because that's what my dad would sing – my dad would be David Ruffin of The Temptations and sing 'Ain't To Proud To Beg', and me and my two brothers would be the back up singers. So I grew up listening to The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Commodores. I was mostly into the male groups because my family was male heavy and my dad was a singer. We can replay the battle between The Temptations and The Four Tops in our family.
BR: Which records by Motown do you remember buying?
CN: My family bought all of the Jackson 5 records and The Temptations' 'Cloud Nine' album was the first LP that I remember seeing my dad putting the needle on the record.
BR: What was your very first stage performance?
CN: I was in Grade Eleven in High School – I went to a performing arts high school in Dallas, Texas. I was going for classical vocal lessons and they needed someone for a production of 'Purlie'. I auditioned and got cast as Gitlow. I was sixteen.
BR: Are there any roles that you would most like to play?
CN: I would say that the role I'd most like to play hasn't been written yet (laughs). It would be written specifically for me – from the vision of catering the role specifically for Cedric Neal. There are tons of roles in shows that are out there that I like and if I got the chance to play them I'd say yes... Ok I have one for you: Aaron Burr in 'Hamilton'.
CN: The best advice that I've ever received is: Don't believe the cheerleaders (laughs), because cheerleaders cheer when you are winning, and when you're not winning they're silent. Cheerleaders are trained to cheer when you're winning and when you're on top and when you're doing good. Best advice is not to listen to the cheerleaders.
BR: What is the most annoying part of your job?
CN: It's people asking if they can get free tickets.
BR: In that case, I'll scrap my next question! (laughs)
BR: If you had not become a performer, what might have you done instead?
CN: This is the total truth – I have no idea. Oh wait - I probably would have become a preacher – which is still theatre.
CN: I like the Rose Garden at Regent's Park.
BR: And what about during the winter months?
CN: During the winter months, this is going to sound so corny, I just like to go home, in front of my fire place and watch TV with my dog. I'm really a home buddy.
BR: What do you like watching on TV?
CN: 'Sherlock', 'Call The Midwife', a new show called 'London Spy' that I love and 'Orphan Black'.
BR: Who are your favourite non-Motown artists?
CN: Vocally: Donny Hathaway, Ella Fitzgerald, Leontyne Price, a gospel group from the States called The Clark Sisters, and more up to date I like Kurt Elling who is a jazz singer and Oleta Adams.
BR: And any groups?
CN: Take 6, Indigo Girls, Earth Wind and Fire and Debarge.
BR: What are your favourite songs? Either Motown or non-Motown ...
CN: Favourite Motown songs would be 'Ain't Too Proud To Beg' [The Temptations], 'Remember Me' [Diana Ross], 'What's Going On' [Marvin Gaye], Teena Marie's 'Square Biz'. Favourite non-Motown songs would be 'For All We Know' by Donny Hathaway, 'Get Here' by Oleta Adams and 'Power of Two' by The Indigo Girls.
BR: Are there any shows that you are keen to see in London?
CN: I saw the 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time' for the first time here in London and it blew me away. I want to see 'wonder.land' at the National and also Ma Rainey's Black Bottom at the National – one of my closest friends, Sharon D Clarke is starring in it. Also want to see 'Aladdin' when it transfers and I still haven't seen 'War Horse'.
BR: What are your future plans or where do you see yourself in five years time?
CN: I see myself in Motown The Musical for a while and I would be satisfied with that, and for my next venture I’d love to get into television such as an episode of 'Sherlock'.