Reviewed by Nikki Cotter
Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Motown the Musical is not your average jukebox production, while of course it’s jam-packed with sensational Motown classics it goes much deeper educating audiences in the history of this ground-breaking musical movement and doing so with real heart and soul along the way.
The story is told in a flashbacks by Motown creator Berry Gordy (Edward Baruwa) who started the label with just $800 and went on to launch the careers of icons such as Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations and Marvin Gaye to name but a few. The show begins as the 25th anniversary celebration is looming but Gordy is in no mood to party.
With such an incredible back catalogue to pick from it would be easy to fall into the tribute concert category but Mowton the Musical offers so much more as personal relationships and professional struggles play out. We begin with Gordy’s childhood where he dreams of being somebody. Through his founding of the Motown label not only does he become somebody but changes the face of not just music but popular culture forever.
The music is joyfully allowed to take centre stage, at times it moves the story on and on other occasions is there for pure enjoyment & boy does it do its job. With hits including ABC, Baby Love, My Girl, Dancing In The Street, What’s Going On and Stop In The Name Of Love delivered by the most talented of casts Motown is an absolute thrill from start to finish.
Edward Baruwa is entirely convincing as label boss Berry Gordy, his journey from optimistic youngster through to disillusioned & disappointed record label boss is committed & believable. Karis Anderson as Diana Ross goes on an incredible journey; maturing before our eyes from wide/eyed schoolgirl to ultimate Vegas diva she is sensational.
Nathan Lewis shines as Smokey Robinson on what is his professional theatre debut while Shak Ganbbidon-Williams is superb as Marvin Gaye. Special mention must also go to the talented ensemble cast who take on multiple roles with incredible skill.
The real genius about this production is that it manages to effectively portray the way in which the political & social climate influenced the sounds of the time whilst still entertaining enormously; the Vietnam war, assassinations of both JFK & Martin Luther King each taking the story in a new direction, adding authenticity and richness.
In addition to this absorbing story & unforgettable music is a stunning use of projection. Scenic designer David Korins & projection designer Daniel Brodie have effectively managed to recreate houses, TV studios, theatres & offices with their intricate & dynamic designs. Panels sweep in & out adding multiple layers to the bold visuals.
Motown is a show which will appeal to all & will without doubt gain a whole new generation of fans. From its world-class soundtrack to its stunning design this high-energy, super slick production is told with genuine heart & heaps of soul; if you’re not dancing in the streets of Manchester afterwards we’d have to ask What’s Going On?
On at the Opera House until Saturday 23rd March tickets available here.