Motown the Musical started its days in Broadway in 2013 and is loosely based on the book of Berry Gordy’s memoirs. The book explores his failures as a boxer and aspirations to start a record label. It’s a typical rags to riches type story. The book has fairly mixed reviews and it was for this reason that I wasn’t sure how high my expectations should be for Broadway. Berry Gordy for those who don’t know, was the brains behind record label The Motown Records. The label boasts a huge 57 chart toppers in the United States with artists such as Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and The Supremes. This Motown movement allowed black artists to become recognised as mainstream artists in the 60s and 70s. Motown made revelations in not only music, but race relations too. Berry Gordy wrote and co-produced Motown the Musical. It’s worth mentioning that he is 86 these days and so very impressive. I can’t think of anyone better to bring Motown to the stage.
The musical follows Gordy’s life from where he started out in the street of Detroit to his US chart success. The musical highlights the issues of race segregation and I do love a musical with a take home message. Gordy portrays a fairly bitter attitude, even to his partner Diana Ross. Those who know the story surrounding her decision to go from The Supremes to solo may observe that the depiction of it in Motown is a little skewed. It is told from Gordy’s point of view after all.
The cast are sleek and synchronised in the movements and pitch perfect in their singing. This is another show for me where the incredible performance by the cast outshines the story of the show itself. For me, the character playing a young Michael Jackson was out of this world. He was very very cute and an amazing performer. I almost felt like I had gone back in time and was watching the real thing in front of my very eyes. With cues from the cast to the pit band including “I hear a symphony”, it did have its cringey moment but the band were exceptional. Exceptionally cringey would perhaps be accurate!
I didn’t think I would know many of the songs but out of the 50 songs (yes 50!), me and the audience were able to sing along to all of them. It was a really lovely atmosphere. The sing along aspect bought us audience members together. That combined with the racial message behind Motown made this musical a real heart warming show. People leaving the theatre humming along to ABC really did make me smile. With so many songs crammed into about 2 hours, it felt a bit too much at times. 25 yes of pop history in such a short amount of time sounds impossible and whilst they managed it, it felt a little rushed and lacking depth. With the happy familiarity of the music though, this didn’t matter too much.
Take home message
Admittedly I don’t know an awful lot about Motown and I hoped to come away with a bit more knowledge, unfortunately I don’t feel like I really did. I did however, come out with more of an intention to rediscover Motown.
There was a quote in the show that I haven’t forgotten so I’ll leave you with that today: “be the best you you can be.”
Motown the Musical is currently showing at Shaftesbury Avenue with the nearest tube station being Tottenham Court Road. You can get tickets HERE.
Photos courtesy of Motown the Musical