Review: Motown the Musical Opera House, Manchester 27th February 2019.
Reviewed by Ian Hills Wythenshawe FM 97.2 The Northern Soul Hour Extended Play.
There was ‘Dancing in the Streets’ when Motown the Musical arrived in Manchester. The sensational hit Broadway and West End musical has brought its unique sound to the Opera house.
With $1,000 borrowed from his family Berry Gordy founded Motown Records and launched the careers of legendary artists including Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Martha Reeves and many more and in 10 years was to become the largest black-owned business in the USA.
This is the next chapter in Motown’s incredible history and is an experience you’ll never forget. Featuring over 50 classic hits including My Girl, What’s Going On, Dancing in the Street, I Heard It Through the Grapevine and Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.
Motown the Musical tells the thrilling tale of the man who broke barriers, fought against the odds to create something more than a record label. Discover the story behind Motown, the personal relationships, the professional struggles, and of course the music that made history, defined the sound of a generation and got the whole world moving to the same beat. With an all British cast directed by Charles Randolph-Wright staring Edward Baruwa, Berry Gordy, London Road, Jerry Springer the Opera, the T Boy show. Karis Anderson, Dianna Ross, Girl Band Shooshe, Nathan Lewis, Smokie Robinson Boy Band Five After Midnight, Shak Gabbidon – Williams, Marvin Gaye, Guildford School of Acting BA (Hons) Musical Theatre, plus the large young talented cast playing Motown’s finest.
We open with the 25th anniversary of Motown Records in 1983, with a medley of classics, including I Can’t Help Myself and Get Ready then jump to music tycoon Berry Gordy home where Smokie Robinson pleads for him to make an appearance at the televised event before we go whistle-stop tour of the company’s history starting with songwriter Berry Gordy with $1,000 borrowed from his very reluctant mother to launch Tamala Motown Records. And as they say the rest is history. With every black artist and group in Detroit making a path to ‘Hitsville USA’ the name of Gordy’s recording studios and launched the careers of legendary artists including Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles (Motown’s first 1 million seller), The Temptations, The Four Tops, Mary Wells, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Gladys Knights and the Pips, Jackie Wilson, The Marvelettes and many more.
We are treated to iconic early classics like My Girl, Baby Love and Stop in the Name of Love from some of the biggest names in Motown. At one point we are transported back to Manchester where Diana Ross is appearing and having a proper cup of Manchester tea backstage, it could have been in the Co-op’s New Century Hall ballroom where I saw the Supremes along with the Four Tops and the Temptations back in the 1960s
Not everything goes smoothly between the artists and Gordy with lawsuits over money, contracts and artists leaving. The first act ends with troubles arising for the company and an uncertain future for Motown.
We open in Act 2 in a troubled America with the Vietnam war, cue Edwin Starr’s WAR, race riots the assassination of President John Kennedy and the shooting of Marin Luther King Jnr whose speeches Gordy had released on LP records, here we see Marvin Gaye argues to release his album of protest songs and the uncertainty for Gordy and his company. We get to see the segregation. oppression, race riots and the difficulties of being a black African American and not just in Detroit. The mainstream media was very white, and we see Smokie Robinson pleading to get the local radio stations to play a Motown track by a black artist.
The love affair between Berry Gordy and Diana Ross adds the love interest with Gordy concentrating on just her to the anger of his other acts and later we see Diana leaving Motown to pursue her own solo career at the same time the move of Motown from Detroit to Los Angeles and lawsuits are bankrupting the company.
Then back to the Motown’s 25th Anniversary televised concert with all the original artists come back together for a one-time concert and Berry Gordy decides to join them on stage for a fantastic melody of songs including the new artists with Stevie Wonder leading the way with ‘Happy Birthday’ the audience on their feet singing and clapping along.
Edward Baruwa’s duet with Karis Anderson was outstanding with brilliant performances from the whole cast along with glamorous costumes of the ‘60s ‘70s and ‘80s, the bright colours of the projected sets and stage lighting especially during the psychedelic numbers along with an orchestra and the nostalgia of the music was a real treat for the senses, very fitting as this year is Motown’s 60th Anniversary. This is not a ‘Juke Box’ musical with back to back songs but tells the early history of Motown, I would have liked to see a bit more of the relationships between the artists such as Smokey Robinson marrying Claudette Rodgers one of the Miracles.
Motown the Musical is showing at the Opera House, Manchester until Saturday, March 23rd Tickets from ATGTICKETS/ MANCHESTER.com. Box Office 0844 871 3018 or book in person.
My interview with Nathan Lewis, Smoky Robison by Ian Robert Hills is available to listen to on Mixcloud