Hold On, Norwich

Tired of seeing a string of ill-conceived compilation shows, Bristol Old Vic artistic director Andy Hay asked rising young dramatist Kwame Kwei-Armah to build him a show around the great black record labels of the '60s and '70s, Motown and Stax.

By JOHN LAWSON

Tired of seeing a string of ill-conceived compilation shows, Bristol Old Vic artistic director Andy Hay asked rising young dramatist Kwame Kwei-Armah to build him a show around the great black record labels of the '60s and '70s, Motown and Stax.

The result is Hold On, which had the Theatre Royal jumping and grooving to the best in blues, funk and soul.

Both were in the audience to see the first night of a 10-week nationwide tour, at which the seven-strong cast, headed by soul diva Ruby Turner and backed by a tight seven-piece band and horn section, sounded like they had been performing together forever.But then Hay and his producer Paddy Wilson had assembled a pretty distinguished company.

Lone man Peter Straker has been at the top of the West End tree since his big break in the original cast of Hair back in 1968. Since then he has played the lead in Phantom of the Opera – and they don't come much bigger than that.

And soul sisters Jacqui Boatswain, Veronica Hart and Dawn Michael have been principals in the original West End casts of such blockbusters as Chicago, Whistle Down the Wind and Lion King.

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While it was nice to see something of a storyline to complement the songs, it was they that were, of course, the stars.

Highlights included Turner's Midnight Train to Georgia and Hart's Respect, but for me the moment of the night was Michael sitting alone at the piano singing Aretha Franklin's Many Rivers to Cross. The Queen of Soul herself would have been very proud.

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