Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Memories of Motown

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the founding of Motown Records, the Estrel Berlin has opened a delightful show which offers a walk down Motown memory lane. My Sweet No and I were lucky enough to be invited to the premiere of this entertaining stage show celebrating the best Motown hits from the 60's and 70's.

It really was a lovely event bringing out much of Berlin's entertainment "royalty". Before the show there was a mixer with buffet. Our little group kept pointing out famous folks and politicians... hmmm, I have to admit that I recognized only one of them, Roberto Blanco, who seems to be on every musical show produced by German TV. I found a video report by tVB (in German only, sorry) which shows some of the mixer. It was a bit hard to get around to the food with all of the cameras stuck in people's faces. Don't you worry, that didn't stop ME!

Normally the Estrel has a "Stars in Concert" approach with lookalikes recreating the look and sound of big stars such as Tina Turner, (oh my gosh, that reminds me that we'll be seeing the ORIGINAL in just a few weeks... I can barely breathe!) Sting, Louis Armstrong, Rod Stewart, Boy George, Elvis, Cher, Whitney, Joe Cocker, and many more. We get free tickets once in a while, so we take in the show occasionally for a little cheezy Las Vegas feel.

But for this special event, producer Bernhard Kurz brought to Berlin some REAL Motown stars such as The Contours ("Do You Love Me - Now That I Can Dance") and The Miracles, who originally recorded with Smokey Robinson ("You Really Got a Hold On Me" / "Shop Around" / "The Tracks of My Tears"). For the premiere night only the special guest was Martha Reeves of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, ("Heat Wave" / "Jimmy Mack" / "Dancin' in the Streets").

Martha is still shaking it on the stage, let me tell ya. She's aged (hell, haven't we all), but our table decided that she must be around 70 by now... and if I think of my mother at 70 in comparison to this pro getting up there and doing her thing... well, there is no competition.

It was interesting to see the German audience's lack of response to music which quite simply makes me want to dance. There I am clapping and tapping and shaking in my chair as those around me (including No) are simply staring at the stage... HOW CAN THIS HAPPEN? When the artists invite the audience to clap or sing along, the people just sit there calmly as though making any noise would be disrespectful. This is one thing which I find completely different between the American and German audiences.

Martha even made mention of this in her performance. She was giving the intro to "Jimmy Mack" and was asking the audience to "do something unusual for German audiences" and help her get him to come back by clapping and making lots of noise as well as singing out for Jimmy. Um... no. I would assume that many in the audience simply didn't know the song. Also it is quite possible they didn't understand her... but then it is quite hard to not understand someone standing on stage frantically making the motions of clapping.

Right up alongside those famous performers were a talented group of lookalikes which rounded out the night by bringing many other famous songs from Berry Gordy's Motown; Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson.

On the night of the premiere we were treated to Motown's PR man, Al Abrams, who gave on stage insights into the beginnings of the important recording company. Also onhand was William "Mickey" Stevenson who headed the A&R Department (artists and repertoire). They had some really funny stories to tell about the formative years of a company that opened previously locked doors for black performers.

All in all it was a fun night. Sweet No even recognized some of the songs, although there were many in our group who felt a bit left out because they really didn't know most of the music being played. There is simply an age difference... anyone under 40 is at a disadvantage. Of course there is also the geographical problem. Europe just didn't get to hear a lot of the music we Americans are much more exposed to. But it was universally agreed that even without the recognition, the music was quite enjoyable.

The Estrel put on a good show and did a nice job on the buffet. The white wine was a good quality and the mixed drinks weren't watered down. It was interesting to see them trying to do American food. May I say that it was funny to see two different items made with sweet potatoes (not a normal occurance on a German buffet), and their rendition of roast beef was quite lovely.

If you are a fan of Motown and happen to be in Berlin before the 1st of February, I highly recommend this show!

On a side note: I have a strange affliction with writing the word "Motown". For some strange reason when I type the word itself, I always want to write it "Mowtown".... what is that about? Do other people have this problem? What part of the brain is this? Why this disconnect? What other words cause such troubles for people?


G in Berlin said...

I find it amazing that Germans are so unbelievably stiff. Both at the Rocky Horror (thanks again!) and at the Night of the Proms (with the Harlem Angels begging them to sing along, and a translated request on the screens with the words printed out to sing with!), Germans couldn't get the stick out. But then they applaud like crazy. Very strange.
Think Mo(tor) Town and you won't forget the spelling. I always get recommend wrong (every time-just did again) and I am so grateful for spellcheck. It's like there is a tiny hole in my brain that gets that wrong every time. And yet I have won spelling contests.

Diane Mandy said...

It makes me want to plan a trip to Berlin now!

headbang8 said...

Did they knock on the tables instead?