The masterpieces of Motown shaped performer Jason Hunter’s musical ear from an early age.
“I grew up listening to the classics of Motown and I love it. It puts me in a good mood and when I hear certain songs it’s very nostalgic for me,” explained Hunter, 27, who after studying at San Francisco’s Conservatory Theater earned his bachelor’s degree in music from Berklee College of Music. He was in a college production of ‘Dreamgirls’ and fronted bands in Tennessee and Mississippi as a blues singer.
When he learned about “Dancing In the Streets” a celebration of some of the motor city’s greatest hits that brought to life the melodic, timeless songs made popular by The Temptations, The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Martha and the Vandellas, Diana Ross and the Supremes just to name a few, Hunter knew it’d be a fun role to play.
“Dancing in the Streets” made its North American debut in early March following a successful run in London in 2014. The music in the show begins in the early 1960’s and touches on some of the solo careers of various Motown artists including Lionel Richie and Diana Ross.
“This was different from what I’d done before like in ‘Dreamgirls’ because in ‘Dancing’ I played the MC so I got the chance to interact with the audience. Based on what the audience’s mood was, that was how we did the show even though we did the same songs each night.”
Hunter controlled the mike on “This Old Heart of Mine, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” the gospel-tinged “Can I Get a Witness” and the duets “Endless Love” and “All I Need to Get By.” The two-hour show was reminiscent of artists who used to perform at the Apollo Theater when music had meaning and told stories everyone could relate to. The cast was clad in wigs and costumes reminiscent of the time that brought back memories for some concert goers and introduced other to a simpler more exciting time in music history.
The performers danced routines inspired by the dances Cholly Atkins came up with for the original Motown stars.
Although the Pittsburgh audience was a bit subdued at the start of the show—which played the Byham on April 17—it became more lively when a female member was plucked out of the audience and serenaded to by one of the male cast members. Pittsburgh was the final stop for the North American tour, which featured seven 20-something-year-old cast members performing about 40 Motown hits accompanied by a live five-piece band.
“The audience has been great and this tour has been amazing,” said a tearful Hunter at the end of the show. “All of us have become like a family. I’m sad to see this end.”
Following his work in “Dancing In The Streets,” Hunter returned to Boston where he in the lead singer in the wedding band, Eye 2 Eye.
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