Interview with Motown's Cedric Neal

Cedric Neal is bringing the sound of the sixties to the stage at the Shaftesbury Theatre. He is starring as Berry Gordy in the smash hit show Motown the Musical.

Motown the Musical is a high energy, vibrant show. How do you sustain that level of energy for 8 shows a week?
Rest away from the show. I would love to go out with friends during the week, but taking care of yourself away from the show, helps you take care of the show. I'm also a big fan of energy shots before every show. My favourites are wheatgrass, ginger and turmeric shots. It just gives a little extra boost.

Cedric, this is your west end debut. How are you finding London audiences? Are there any differences between Broadway audiences?
This is my West End debut, and I've learned so much about myself, myself in the business and myself in the business of London commercial theatre. The only noticeable difference between West End and the great white way is the "celebrity culture" that exists on Broadway. The fans are a lot more involved on Broadway. I think it boils down to "playbills." Everyone gets a program when attending a show in NYC. Whereas, on the West End you have to purchase a show booklet. Fans in NYC have immediate and free "access" to the artists that they just witnessed onstage. So they feel a little more involved. At the end of the day, it's storytelling at its best on both sides of the pond. 

You’ve been in the UK three years now. Have you picked up any British traits?
Sunday roast baby!!!! And I find it terribly annoying now when I visit other places, and folks are just standing on both sides of the escalator. I want to scream, "stand on the right...walk on the left people!!!!"

You are both playing living legends. What challenges do you face trying to portray a real person as opposed to creating a fictional character?
I don't envy Lucy (St. Louis) at all. She is playing an icon that is immediately recognisable by sight and sound. And she pulls it off brilliantly. The pressure on me is a lot less intense. I like to say "B.G. is the most unknown known superstar ever." Very few people know B.G.'s mannerisms, sense of style....voice, so I got to create a character based on the truth of a living legend...while he was in the room.

Berry Gordy is also one of the producers on the show. How was it having him in the rehearsal room?
That was wild. He said to me, "Cedric, you're a lot more suave then I've ever been. Keep it.  I like it." I don't think I could be more proud, as an African-American man honouring an African-American icon of a man! Thank you, Mr. Gordy. 

Have you had any of the Stars of Motown pay a visit to the show and what was their reaction?
Opening night, our director, Charles Randolph-Wright and pops (Mr. Gordy), surprised the cast at warm-up with Smokey Robinson. He was so gracious and smooth as ever. Mary Wilson (of the Supremes), Martha Reeves, Tito and Jackie Jackson have all been to the show. Martha Reeves corrected my stance as we were taking pictures. She said, "uh, unh...this is the Motown way!!!" ha. Meeting famed Motown manager, Shelly Berger was a master class in loyalty. 

Including your own songs, what is your favourite track in the show and why?
Without a doubt, "To Be Loved" is one of my two favourite songs in the show. "some wish to be a King or a Queen. Some wish for fortune and fame. But, to be truly, truly loved is more than all of these things." Come on...that's just beautiful and simple and true. I love it. 
The duet "You're All I Need to Get By" is the other. It's special to Lucy and I. We first met in the audition room singing this song. And it is still just as magical almost two years later. 

If you could sum up the show in just five words, what would they be?
Calling out around the world!!!!!!

Motown the Musical tickets are available now through January 2019.

Harrison Fuller

Theatre manager, writer, maker.

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