A tongue-in-cheek barnstorming ensemble performance that will leave you delighted
This lighthearted sizzling show features 50 songs from Motown, covering the Detroit (motor town, from which the label takes its name) era, and the later Los Angeles epoch.
It is truly thrilling to see so much exceptional song ‘n’ dance talent on one stage: at the time of watching, Berry Gordy is powerfully portrayed by American actor Cedric Neal, and the rest of the impressive ensemble cast turn in strong vocal impersonations of Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, and Marvin Gaye et al.
Now, this isn’t exactly a warts-and-all portrait of founder, Gordy, in fact his own emotions, drives and passions are just merely hinted at, perhaps to the detriment of the overall tale, but then the musical catalogue is what is here to really tell the story of those times and, after all, that is what the audience is here for too!
Motown was most probably the music of their teens – and boy do they let you know it! Standing, singing, dancing clapping – we’ve never seen an audience as involved and moved by a musical.
The lightness of touch with the script means the atmosphere and dialogue is kept light and often comical in places, giving a feel of real uplift and exuberance to the entire performance. Even the darker sections of the story in which the appalling events of the time unfold (Kennedy, Martin Luther King, the Vietnam War), are delivered in a schmaltzy fashion, but with a runtime of 2hrs 40mins, we are not here for emotional catharsis, but for sheer entertainment and the show magically conjures an overall feeling that one is looking back on a bygone age of tenderness and innocence.
The 50 Motown label hits include all the ones you would expect, from artists such as Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Martha Reeves and the Jackson Five, including an excellent pint-sized portrayal of Michael Jackson. All the standard-for-the-era dance moves are on display here with the melodies, and often the set, melding seamlessly from one song to the next.
As mentioned the only real thing lacking is the deep character detail behind Gordy himself. What drives him? What are his foibles? Where did his entrepreneurial streak come from? For all the depths of social change plumbed and world events lightly covered, Gordy’s character remains very much aloof, like the cork in a musical bottle of wine – an ethereal figure capping something deep and meaningful. We never fully hear about the sacrifice of his personal life due to his all-consuming career.
Despite this, the obvious segues and occasionally clunky (although cognisant and tounge-in-cheek) dialog, what the show is really about is the music and the performances, of which both aspects are wonderfully realised.
A truly uplifting and memorable show that will leave you dancing in the streets.
Get your tickets from lovetheatre.com