This ambitious musical celebrating the legacy of Motown is a fun and nostalgic way to experience the sound that made a success of Berry Gordy.
Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Jackson 5 are just a few of the artists whose work is so brilliantly featured in this lively production of Motown the Musical, currently touring the UK after its successful run in the West End.
As well as featuring hits by some of the most famous artists of the Motown era, the musical follows the story of Berry Gordy and how he helped discover some the best singers in the business and the rise and fall of Motown. Despite the weakness of the book (by Berry Gordy himself) which keeps the central character at a firm distance, Charles Randolph-Wright’s energetic production is a fascinating insight into the music business and is a genuine crowd-pleaser from start to finish.
The production is perhaps at its strongest when it highlights how the music created in the Motown era reflected many of the events happening in America at the time including JF Kennedy’s assassination, Martin Luther King’s assassination and the Vietnam War referred to through various projections designed by Daniel Brodie – adding additional depth and context to the music beneath the entertainment value. In particular, the way in which the production uses the music to highlight these issues – such as Edwin Starr’s ‘War’ highlighted with protesters on stage and projections of the Vietnam War really enhance this feeling.
The whole show also seems a lot tighter than it was in the West End – more thought out and easier to engage with as well as a hint of drama (that could definitely incorporated more consistently) that holds the audience’s attention.
Everything from glitzy and glamorous costumes designed by Emilio Sosa, the lighting design by Natasha Katz Charles G Lapointe’s hair and wig designs to the choreography by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams (re-staged by Brian Harlan Brooks) – reflects each of the decades that the show covers to great effect. Visually, it is not a show that puts a foot wrong.
It is just a shame that the book could have been developed further to explore in more depth the difficulties that Gordy faced in creating Motown, as well as offering a real insight into the man himself and has sense of feeling slightly biased in its portrayal. But ultimately, this is a show designed to entertain – which it does consistently.
The cast are all phenomenally talented and that is shown by the sleekness of their performances and vocals throughout. In particular, Karis Anderson is particularly dynamic as Diana Ross revealing how she grows and develops from a confident teenager to a star who knows what she wantss from her career. Elsewhere, Cordell Mosteller conveys Berry Gordy’s drive and always pushing for more from himself and those he looks after with great intensity, Nathan Lewis as the level headed Smokey Robinson is excellent support and Shak Gabbidon-Williams offers a strong performance as Marvin Gaye.
Whether it is ‘I Heard it Through the Grape Vine’ , ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’ or ‘Do You Love Me?’ there is certainly plenty for audiences to enjoy musically. Motown the Musical feels like a real celebration from start to finish.
By Emma Clarendon