Motown The Musical
Genre: Comedy Drama
Writer: Charles Randolph-Wright
Cast: Reece Richards, Kane Matthews, Shak Gabbidon-Williams, Carlo Braithwaite, Natalia Brown, Olivia Hibbert & Karis Anderson
Review Date: September 18 2019
Performances: September 17-28 2019, 7.30pm incl. 2.30pm matinees
Location: Empire Theatre, Liverpool
Age Rating: 11+
Motown The Musical is the latest show to hit Liverpool’s Empire Theatre. It charts the history of Motown music, from the original Motown record label to the subsequent worldwide success of its performers, albeit with major long-term financial complications for the man heading it up.
The iconic M logo adorns the front curtain and lights up as the show starts. The Four Tops and The Tremeloes open things up with a few verses of their most famous tunes (many songs are only covered by one verse in this show, given the huge number of hits that are being spotlighted). We jump ahead to the 25th anniversary celebration of Motown with a celebration of Berry Gordy (Edward Baruwa), but we also see a scene where he is refusing to attend the show. Then, we hark back to a scene from his childhood, where he is inspired by the boxer Joe Lewis to be the best black man that he can in adulthood.
Fast-forward again, and Berry introduces himself to Jackie Wilson (Reece Richards), giving him a song idea (while we also hear a great performance of Reet Petite). Berry gets the idea to form a record label, and so he meets the likes of Smokey Robinson (Kane Matthews), Marvin Gaye (Shak Gabbidon-Williams) and a young Stevie Wonder (Carlo Braithwaite). He also meets the three ladies who would later form The Supremes: Florence Ballard (Natalia Brown), Mary Wilson (Olivia Hibbert) and Diana Ross (Karis Anderson). Between them, these artists begin to put Motown on the map, not only as a great representation of black music, but for music in general. We hear hit after hit after hit which had the audience singing and dancing along, and the renditions of such tunes as My Girl, I Heard It Through The Grapevine and Dancing In The Street, amongst many others.
There are problems, though. The 1960s was a time when black people were still subjected to blatant racism, and Martin Luther King Jr. – a motivator of change for all of the aforementioned artists – being killed leads to a societal uprising. Meanwhile, Berry and Diana start to turn their professional relationship into a personal one, and this impacts the other members when it slowly comes out that Ross is planning to go solo. Add to that the fact that, while the Motown label becomes more lucrative, Berry becomes a victim of his own success with various acts choosing to go elsewhere, and the dream begins to unravel for the man at the helm. This leads to questions as to how his relationship with Diana will turn out, as well as what will happen to Motown Records and the future of this new, exciting genre that has by this point taken the world by storm.
Edward Baruwa is believable as Berry Gordy, managing to retain a business head through times of struggle but while also acknowledging his flaws when it comes to compensating his artists. Karis Anderson does a fine job as Diana Ross, managing to emit a certain charm and likeability, even during scenes where she may be acting in her own self-interests. The remaining performers are a very talented cast in terms of acting ability, but of course, the real draw of this show is the music – and in that area, the production really shines.
Indeed, there are so many great hits that keep on coming; by sticking to a verse or two from the majority of the tunes, the show manages to cover a huge proportion of the Motown back catalogue, and they include some of the most famous songs of all-time. Aside from those already mentioned, we have I Want You Back, Do You Love Me, Stop In The Name Of Love and You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me amongst plenty of others. Crucially, though, they are all performed authentically; it is hard to pick out one singer or one group because the team as a whole are perfectly suited for their roles, other than to note that they replicate the real-life singers down to their mannerisms and quirks, they manage to hit the high notes while also offering up all of the classic dance moves, and combined with true-to-life costumes, the upshot is that at times you forget you are watching an homage to Motown, and instead embrace the music and its stars as if you are watching the actual men and women themselves coming to life on stage.
I highly recommend Motown The Musical because you can sing, dance, laugh and cry along with a team who have managed to tell the story of Motown to the nth degree. It’s a show that has it all, and it brings back the Motown music to a spectacular level. Check it out as soon as you can!
Target Audience: Adults Aged 30-65
Content: 2/5 – Infrequent Strong Language
Overall Rating: 9/10 – Outstanding
Motown The Musical runs at the Empire Theatre until Saturday September 28. To buy tickets, click here or call 0844 871 3017.