Shaftesbury Theatre, London – until 24 February 2018
Based on Berry Gordy’s memoirs, Motown the Musical is filled with fantastic songs but feels slightly light weight when it comes down to the story. There is something irresistible about the music of Motown. No matter what age you are, chances are that you have encountered or listened to it at least once and this show manages to recapture the spirit and era in which it was most appreciated and loved.
Based on the true story of Berry Gordy, founder of Motown, the musical documents how this particular brand of music rose to popularity from the 1950’s onwards and its demise in the 1980’s. Meanwhile, interspersed with the facts are some classic songs such as ‘Dancing in the Streets’ and ‘My Girl’ originally sung by the likes of Martha and the Vandellas and The Temptations.
For obvious reasons the music is certainly a highlight of the show, enthusiastically and elegantly performed by all of the cast – none of whom put a single vocal note out of tune, with their harmonies always spot on and rich with sound. Along with Warren Adams and Patricia Wilcox’s choreography, it feels as though the spirit of Motown is perfectly captured, reflecting the joy the music and the artists brought.
Unfortunately what lets the show down is its script and story. Both feel as though they are lacking in sincerity and depth for the audience to really learn of anything of importance with every key moment being rushed through even how Gordy managed to spot many of the talents most associated with Motown including Marvin Gaye and The Jackson Five. The vagueness in the details leave many questions and a few plot holes that are covered by music .This is a real shame particularly as the musical is billed as telling the story behind Motown.
However, where the musical does succeed is putting the success of Motown into context with what was happening in society at particular moments such as the deaths of J.F.Kennedy and Martin Luther King, arguing just how important Motown was as a form of escapism from the troubles in the world at the moment. But more than this, the production also reveals the struggles and the persistence that Gordy had in following his dreams despite the numerous obstacles in his way is quite inspirational.
There is no denying that Charles Randolph-Wright has created an electrifying production that puts the music at the heart of the show, but it is slightly disappointing in terms of delivering Gordy’s story which is an important part of music history and the personalities whose careers he helped to develop over the years. But audiences respond warmly to the music and the opportunity to hear some classic songs live, making it a pleasantly entertaining to watch.