“They gave me this part for a reason. You have to know yourself and have faith in yourself, that you can do this. You have to remember that.”
22 year-old Shak Gabbidon-Williams has come far since he left Oxford to become an actor and musical theatre star.
Currently starring as Marvin Gaye in Motown The Musical, coming to Oxford’s New Theatre from today, Shak can’t wait to return to his home town.
Catching up with him in Liverpool, while on tour, he is delighted to be performing in front of his family and friends in Oxford over Christmas, if slightly nervous.
Having started off at Oxford’s StageCoach Performing Arts, he landed a part in The Lion King musical at The Lyceum in the West End aged 10.
“They put me forward for The Lion King three years in a row and I’d given up ever being chosen, but last time round, just when I thought it would never happen, I got the part,” he beams.
“Marvin Gaye had so much about him, and so many different facets and stages in his life to explore. So yes it was a big responsibility taking on this character that is so loved and cherished by the audience,” Shak says.
“Until then it was all about football for me (Shak was at Marsh Baldon Primary School, then Wheatley Park). It was the one thing I wanted to do. Being any other kind of entertainer was really low down my list.”
Now gracing the stage in the epic story of Motown, as part of a mammoth national tour, Shak researched the part of famous soul singer Marvin Gaye by watching loads of videos on YouTube, before admitting that to begin with, taking on such a life defining role was “quite overwhelming.”
He helps tell the story of Motown, a musical history of the prestigious, legendary and iconic record label.
Motown introduced predominantly black, soul, disco and funk music to America, and then the rest of the world, in an era when racial segregation and the civil rights movement was raging outside the Detroit recording studio.
“The songs are so iconic that you feel the audience stir when they hear the first notes and it’s amazing to watch their reactions to songs like ‘I heard it on the grapevine”’
Founded by Berry Gordy (Edward Baruwa), with an $800 dollar loan from his family, the legendary record producer’s struggle, passion, obsession and belief are woven through this detailed musical in the songs and artists he nurtured.
Hence we meet Diana Ross (Karis Anderson) and The Supremes, she being the love of his life, Smokey Robinson (X-Factor’s Nathan Lewis), and Marvin Gaye played by Shak, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Miracles…..the list goes on and on.
READ OUR FULL REVIEW OF MOTOWN THE MUSICAL HERE:
And so does Shak’s soaring voice.
“I still have to pinch myself that I’m playing Marvin Gaye, so for me it’s all about focus,to enable me to do his voice service, and the audience really helps with that.”
A massive responsibility then, to be representing such an iconic singer?
“Playing someone real, in history, rather than an imagined character, who was a complex man, is a big deal,” Shak, who grew up in Headington, agrees.
“Marvin Gaye had so much about him, and so many different facets and stages in his life to explore. So yes, it was a big responsibility taking on this character that is already so loved and cherished by the audience,” Shak says.
“The songs are so iconic that you feel the audience stir when they hear the first notes and it’s amazing to watch their reactions to songs like ‘I heard it on the grapevine’.
Even so, performing in eight show a week isn’t easy? “No, it’s hard, but you have thousands of people there to watch you every night, so it’s important to enjoy it and have fun, and that way you maintain the story night in night out. So I never underestimate that.
“I still have to pinch myself that I’m playing Marvin Gaye, so for me it’s all about focus to enable me to do his voice service, and the audience really helps with that.”
And yet despite his success, Shak feels he came to acting quite late in life. Yes he joined MYCO (The Musical Youth Company of Oxford) but he also went back to school after the Lion King to do his A Levels at Wheatley Park School, before joining GSA (Guildford School of Acting).
“I always loved school. I really enjoyed it, so after my A Levels I had to choose between drama or something more academic.”
Anyone who goes to see Motown The Musical will agree he’s made the right choice.
“If it can happen for me, it can happen for anyone,” he adds.
Motown The Musical runs from Dec 17-Jan 4 at Oxford’s New Theatre