Cast Interview: Cedric Neal & Obioma Ugoala

Cast Interview: Cedric Neal & Obioma Ugoala

We caught up with two of our leading cast members; Cedric Neal who plays Berry Gordy and Obioma Ugoala who plays Smokey Robinson to find out their Motown highlights and backstage habits.

What is the best thing about being in Motown the Musical?

Cedric- For me the best thing about being in Motown, and I’m going to try and say this without crying, I’m fully aware now that I’m part of a legacy that it’s unparalleled. I get to live in family that includes some of my biggest idols; Stevie Wonder, Gladys Night, Rick James, David Ruffin of the Temptations. To be hand selected to be a part of this legacy that changed not only American music, but changed music and pop culture; changed the world. That’s the best part for me.

Obioma- You come out on stage and it’s fun, the music is amazing and incredible and it’s a great story, but you sometimes forget how important it is and was, how relevant it was and still is. We’re a part of that and get to share that story with the British audience. So knowing that, it’s more than a privilege.


What’s been your high point in the whole process?

Cedric- For me my highest point was July 21st 2015, after six recalls I get a call from my agent that they wanted me to do the part, she says “they want to see you one more time, but the pressure’s off, you’re not auditioning, they just want to see you one more time. So I go in, and THE Berry Gordy is sitting behind the table and he says “Hello! You’re the new me.” Everything else that came after or even before that pales in comparison to hearing Berry Gordy say “It’s yours”.

Obioma- I think for me again it was meeting Berry, I met him at the audition, they sent me out of the room and bought me back in and went “this is over”, I had a massive beard at the time! I didn’t know what else to say apart from Thanks. There aren’t words but if there are then I would say them. I think what’s weird is that sometimes you don’t realise, if he doesn’t do what he does, OK talent crawls out sometimes but he was so instrumental in that crossover of black music into pop culture that there is no Stevie Wonder, there is no Diana Ross. He made it so possible and took care of so many artists, it was such a safe place for those artists to grow and do everything that they needed to do, be and become and how much better they needed to be if they were to succeed in this competitive environment, so then meeting that person, you kind of open doors and smash ceilings!

Cedric- Actually I lied I have two, twin high moments, maybe they’re identical, but the press night of the show here I was overwhelmed with emotions that we’d just gotten it done and Mr Gordy came and said something to me that I wish I could say to myself, he took my face in his hands and said “Cedric, you’re the best me ever!” I wish I could say that to myself, you’re the best me.


How did you prepare for your role?

Obioma- I had a kind of childhood of Motown, so you’re aware of “Tracks from my Tears” and “Tears from a Clown” and “Shop Around”. Some of the early Smokey stuff I didn’t know so I saw all of that and also just interviews and bits of footage. Smokey’s got such an iconic voice and such an ease and sense of cool, everything’s effortless, he’s so cool! He’s in his 70’s now and he’s still touring around the US and doing his thing. There are women now who are still like “Yeh I totally would”, because he’s just got that je ne sais quoi of you know these green eyes, he’s just got this sexiness that I can’t attempt to emulate. I just try and get that sense of ease and then try and make it grow, to take as much of that as I could and then go into a room, go on stage and do what you can. It has to be you on stage, no matter how flawless an imitation, you’re still there to tell a story.

Cedric- I don’t envy Obi, Lucy or Sifiso who play Smokey, Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye, I don’t envy their position at all because they’re playing household names and legendary names. You know Diana Ross by sound and sight, you know Marvin Gaye by sound and sight, and you know Smokey Robinson by sound and sight. I say all the time that Berry Gordy is the most unknown superstar ever, in that no he doesn’t sing, he thinks he does! But he doesn’t sing, so in approaching this character and this show, it’s based on his autobiography “To Be Loved”, I read it 3 times between July and January when we started rehearsals. I’m a Libra so I’m very analytical type of person so I did all this background study on Motown and stayed up a whole bunch of nights just trying to get Motown in me. When we started rehearsals, our director Charles Randolph-Wright said to me “have you seen the show”, I saw it in New York, he said he could tell because I was affected by what I saw. Then we had a meeting with Berry Gordy and he said to me, “Cedric, just do you!” Like Obi said, yes I’m playing a character but it has to be real so I was given artistic license and freedom, something that I think they regret now! There’s a scene in the show when Berry Gordy and Diana Ross sing “You’re all I need to get by”, it comes out of The Temptations singing “My Girl” and I take my jacket off and flip it over the chair and he says to me, “Cedric, you are more suave than I have ever been!” So while I don’t envy them having to play these characters, there is a certain pressure because it is Berry Gordy.


Do you have any backstage habits/rituals?

Cedric- I am totally OCD about my whole process at the show, I think it gets on people’s nerves a bit! I have to go visit every dressing room, kiss every cast member before the show. Then I go down and tell every crew member that I can make contact with to have a great show. And then I must, it’s almost a spiritual practise for me to open and close the show with touching the foundation, the stage being the foundation and thanking God for that foundation. You can’t go forwards, you can’t go backwards, you can only go up. So I do that at the beginning of every show and at the end of every show. My backstage choreography never changes!

Obioma- I don’t! We don’t need to be in for warm up until 6:15 but I try and get in for 5. This is one of the hardest sings on the West End stage, he barely leaves the stage. But for Smokey I feel like, there are shows that I’ve done and I’ve tried to be like “Oh no it’s fine I can just turn up at warm up”, but at the end of the day it’s you on the stage singing songs that everyone knows and is expecting a certain thing so if you can’t deliver, that’s on you! You walk out on stage with your trousers around your ankles and if you go to sing and it doesn’t come out the way you want it to or the way you know you’re capable of. So I start that process a bit earlier and as for the rest of it, I wish I had things where I need to have red socks or I need to do this, but I know that if I did do that, if it ever did go wrong I’d then panic!


What one thing do you have to have in your dressing room?

Cedric- My iphone! And at this point in London, a fan! Fizzy drinks, I have to have those and a picture of my husband and my dog.

Obioma- My iphone charger, for my ipad and iphone. And I just love having music around when I’m having my wigs done just to have a little casual sing-a-long.


What does “Motown” mean to you?

Cedric- Soul. Not Soul music, Soul, the heart of everything that you are. The heart of everything that we are, Soul.

Obioma- Great music, great stories, you can listen to any of the Motown songs and know a couple of lines about it but they just tell a story. Like any good story you can pick up and you are there with that artist; if it’s Gladys, if it’s Marvin, if it’s Smokey or Diana, you just know what they’re thinking.


If you could meet any Motown artist, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Cedric- For me it would be Stevie Wonder and in true Cedric form, Michael Jackson or The Jacksons.

Obioma- Yeh, as a company we went to see Stevie in Hyde Park, he did a 4 hour set and Stevie Wonder songs are not easy. There’s no like “Oh it’s OK this is Superstition” or “this is a bit of an easy one”, there aren’t any! He’s just so full of love, even on a gig. I would just love to meet him and ask him everything.

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