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Interview with Obioma Ugoala from the cast of Motown The Musical

Obioma Ugoala as Smokey Robinson
Obioma Ugoala as Smokey Robinson in Motown The Musical – Photo credit Alastair Muir

Obioma Ugoala has recently joined the cast of Motown The Musical in the role of Smokey Robinson. The full cast is as follows at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London’s West End.

Obioma Ugoala (Smokey Robinson) joins Cedric Neal as Berry Gordy, Lucy St. Louis as Diana Ross and Sifiso Mazibuko as Marvin Gaye, who lead the cast of Motown the Musical. They are joined by Keisha Amponsa Banson as Mary Wells, Cindy Belliot as Anna Gordy, Samuel Edwards as Jackie Wilson, Tanya Nicole Edwards as Florence Ballard, Portia Harry as Teena Marie, Aisha Jawando as Martha Reeves, Joshua Liburd as Eddie Kendricks, Simeon Montague as Jermaine Jackson, Cleopatra Rey as Gladys Knight, Brandon Lee Sears as Tito Jackson, Jordan Shaw as Stevie Wonder and Cherelle Williams as Mary Wilson. Eshan Gopal, 12 years old from Kingsbury, London, Kwame Kandekore, 13 years old from Leicester and Bradley Morton, 11 years old from Oxford alternate the role of Young Michael Jackson. They are joined by swings and ensemble members Jay Bryce, Daniel Bailey, Edward Baruwa, Eddie Elliott, Christopher Fry, Alex Hammond, Edward Handoll, Simon Ray Harvey, Elias Hendricks, Brian James Leys, Jayde Nelson, Kieran McGinn, Simone Mistry Palmer, Carl Spencer and Marcel J Whyte.

Obioma Ugoala’s (Smokey Robinson) previous theatre credits include Richard II, Henry IV part I & II, Henry V and The Merry Wives of Windsor for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Holy Warriors and Antony and Cleopatra for Shakespeare’s Globe, The Jungle Book and Crime and Punishment for the Glasgow Citizens Theatre and The Physicists for the Donmar Warehouse. His television credits have included Doctors for the BBC and on film he will be seen in the upcoming Disney live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast.

Obioma Ugoala recently took time to answer a few questions and this is what he had to say:

Your theatre credits include several of Shakespeare’s productions. Do you have a favourite (and why)?
My favourite Shakespeare? Wow, that’s a toughie. If I had to I would say Jonathan Munby’s Antony and Cleopatra at the Globe. Clive a Wood and Eve Best were fantastic as the titular pair. Everyone is friends with that one couple that have a fiery relationship but are madly in love with each other. Except in this instance the impact of their tryst reverberates into the politics of the Western World. The politicking, the performances, the direction, The Globe theatre? It was a great summer.

You are in Disney’s film adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. What can you tell us about being a part of that production?
I think everybody has some connection to the original film. Be it the pre-Frozen heroine that is book-smart Belle or the amazing soundtrack (or in my case a rather disastrous attempt at a home made Beast costume), it’s a wonderful story. On the first day of the read through you could look around the room and between Alan Menken, Bill Condon, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson and Emma Watson you could just tell it was going to be something special. On a side note, I massively fan boyed when I met Audra McDonald. She is genuinely phenomenal. And yet so down to earth.

You recently joined the cast of Motown The Musical as Smokey Robinson. What attracted you to the role and the show?
Motown is such a landmark company and moment both musically and historically. Motown music was always on in my parents house and on long car journeys. You nearly forget how many records Motown produced until you see the show and it’s just hit after hit, feel good song after feel good song. But beyond that, the songs are just beautiful poetry that has lasted through the years. When Marvin Gaye sings “What’s goin on?”, or lines such as “trigger happy policing”, you think this could have been written in 2016 not 1971. It’s heart breaking how relevant it still is.

Did you have to do much research on Smokey Robinson to get into the character? What can you tell us about him?
Smokey and Berry were and still are to this day, the best of friends. They knew each other from their early days in Detroit together and Berry trusted Smokey to be his VP at Motown records. I read his autobiography and listened to his records endlessly as well as watching countless interviews. Smokey wrote a string of hits for the Motown family and just has a way with words and such a cool, vocal ease. If I could be half as effortlessly cool as he is, I’d be a happy man. He’s still performing to this day touring the U.S.

You are new to the cast – what is life like backstage?
Be it just a casual warm up or performing a big group number, the talent in this cast is so apparent. I turned up for my first rehearsal with the cast and by the end of it we were all teasing and joking with each other like a vibrant, musical family. There are a couple of impossible wig changes and costume changes that the wardrobe and wiggies department handle like champions, but above all it’s just so much fun and I think that was what the original Motown family was like and definitely is with us.

Why should everyone get along to see Motown the Musical?
The music. The dancing. The story. By the end of the show people will be “Dancing in the streets”. There are so many fan favourites from Marvin Gaye to Diana Ross to the Jackson 5. The show is non-stop enjoyment for all generations and we have so much fun performing it every evening (and matinee), I can’t wait to share that with everyone.

Motown The Musical Tickets Shaftesbury Theatre London West End.

Book Motown Tickets

Motown The Musical
Shaftesbury Theatre
Performances:
Evenings: Monday to Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees: Thursday and Saturday 3.00pm

Author

  • Neil Cheesman

    First becoming involved in an online theatre business in 2005 and launching londontheatre1.com in September 2013. Neil writes reviews and news articles, and has interviewed over 150 actors and actresses from the West End, Broadway, film, television, and theatre. Follow Neil on Twitter @LondonTheatre1

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