Monday, July 18
This morning class met on the south bank. We joined with the group of students from Ohio State to hear Sifiso Mazibuko talk about performing in the musical Motown. His talk was interesting but, this is his first major acting job in the West End. It lacked the depth of experience I saw from our previous speaker, Gavin Creel. However, he did give our students good advice and the conversation was interesting to me since it really spoke from the other side. From there we walked along the bank of the Thames to Westminster Bridge.
Crossing over we passed Big Ben and Parliament and Westminster Abbey to the Churchill War Rooms in the basement of the Treasury building. The area of London where you find BB and Parliament are incredibly busy. The tourist crowds are intense and during controversial moments can be filled with protesters as they were the last time I was here. I am happy to report it was much quieter this year. The buildings are so striking. The architectural details are lost in most photographs.
This fronts onto St. James Park. This museum is a series of rooms that housed the Prime Minster (and ultimately his family), the cabinet and members of the armed services to protect them during the bombing of London. From there they were able to strategize, plan and conduct the war safely. Churchill felt strongly he could not leave London for morale purposes. It is easy to see how difficult their lives must have been during this trying time in the history of the country. The rooms were closed up almost immediately after the war and forgotten (to most people) like a time capsule. Gradually interest rose from small groups and interest came to restore and make available to the general public. The were officially opened in the mid-1980’s for tours.
The journey through the underground bunker is moving and they have created a great museum to Churchill. MY father always spoke admirably of Winston Churchill and it made me wish he could have toured these rooms. I think he would have spent a long time absorbing every detail.
After the afternoon in the underground we headed back up to the hot streets of London. The mild temperatures we experienced earlier in the trip have been replaced with more steamy heat. By our standards, not too bad but the Brits are really beginning to feel this. Of course, we are as well especially in the steamy unair-conditioned dorms. Entering the hall, you are hit in the face with the heat each time we return and it is only moderately better in the rooms but, I am used to it and it isn’t that bad in the end.
This evening’s production is Motown, the Musical. This is the one big West End musical we are seeing this year and the students are excited about this production.
The production was first-rate in terms of production values. The visual elements were quite stunning but, as a play it doesn’t hold up well. It tried to do too many things and there was never a sense of a story. There are too many stories. Is it telling the story of Motown, the love story between Ross and Gordy, the changes in the African-American community during this time or what? It uses all the beautiful music from Motown and it is enjoyable for that (although, it seemed a slightly pale imitation of the originals). Act I concluded with Marvin Gaye singing his classic, What’s Going On? I thought that summed it up perfectly. Am I glad I went, certainly but, it seemed to be a vehicle to cement Berry Gordy’s legacy and I already know his legacy. I didn’t need a reminder.