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A CurtainUp London London Review
Motown: the Musical

"Perception unchallenged becomes reality. " — Larry the Lawyer
Motown: the Musical
The Temptations (Photo: Alastair Muir )
It is a jukebox musical with some of the best tunes of all time brilliantly performed by a mixed cast of American and British musical stars. This show is all about the music, the songs I have grown up with and still love. But with over 50 numbers crammed into 140 minutes of playing time, there is no opportunity to linger over the tunes. In an early scene the Four Tops and the Temptations hustle each other off the stage, alternately singing their iconic songs.

The structure is based on Berry Gordy's autobiography and tells of the many careers he launched and how later the large corporations subsequently lured the stars away from him with impossible to resist, lucrative record deals. It looks at Gordy's (Cedric Neal) enduring relationship with Smokey Robinson (Charl Brown), his checkered one with Marvin Gaye (Jordan Shaw) and his romantic one with Diana Ross (Lucy St Louis).

There is a sense of era brought to us visually with footage of the riots, civil rights marches, the assassinations of Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Black Power, Nixon, flower power, the moon landing and psychedelia but we are not there for the history or the plot. Musicals like Motown makes us realize why each musical number advancing the plot is so important to the structure of a staged musical as opposed to a concert, where our first priority is the music. The many changes of set have kept this aspect of design to a minimum and instead, lighting shifts and animation are used to vary and excite the scene.

The first Tamla hit, making it to No 2 in the Hot R & B Sides chart, a song written by Berry Gordy is known better in the UK for a 1963 cover version from the Beatles, "Money (That's What I Want)", originally recorded by Barrett Strong in 1959. We see that when Mary Wells with her fabulous song, "My Guy" (written and produced by Smokey Robinson), leaves Motown at the height of her popularity, the Supremes are seen as a poor substitute but of course they go on to become the greatest girl group of all time, with and without Diana Ross. Martha and the Vandellas stay with Motown and their "Dancing in the Streets" becomes an evocative hit that lasts and lasts.

A return to Berry Gordy's childhood sees his ambition to be a boxer as world heavyweight champion, Joe Louis becomes a black hero. Later a concert takes place in one of the Southern states in front of a segregated audience and we can see how with news of the prevalence of the KuKlux Klan how terrified the performers are as they sing "You Really Got a Hold on Me".

The second act sees Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It on the Grapevine" and introduces the Jackson 5 with Kwame Kandekore playing the young Michael Jackson with brilliant energy and charisma. We see more of Berry Gordy with Diana Ross as she breaks into the Frontier venue in Las Vegas and stars in the Billie Holiday movie, The Lady Sings the Blues".

Gareth Weedon and his twenty piece band are simply excellent. The live singing is state of the art, the dance as authentic as the early hairstyles with defined partings, and of course when the show reaches its climactic finales with "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" most of the audience are on their feet.
Motown: the Musical
Based on Berry Gordy's book "To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, The Memories of Motown"
Music from Motown Records
Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright
Starring Cedric Neal, Lucy St. Louis, Charl Brown, Sifiso Mazibuko, Keisha Amponsa Banson, Cindy Belliot, Samuel Edwards, Eddie Elliott, Jay Bryce, Tanya Nicole Edwards, Portia Harry, Aisha Jawando, Joshua Liburd, Simeon Montague, Cleopatra Rey, Brandon Lee Sears, Jordan Shaw, Cherelle Williams
With: Daniel Bailey, Edward Baruwa, Christopher Fry, Alex Hammond, Edward Handoll, Simon Ray Harvey, Elias Hendricks, Brian James Leys, Jayde Nelson, Kieran McGinn, Simone Mistry Palmer, Carl Spencer and Marcel J Whyte
Scenic Designer: David Korins
Costume Design: Esosa
Lighting: Natasha Katz
Sound: Peter Hylenski
Projection Design: Daniel Brodie
Musical Director: Gareth Weedon
Choreography: Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams
Musical Supervision and Arrangements: Ethan Popp
Orchestrations: Ethan Popp and Bryan Crook
Running time: Two hours 40 minutes with an interval
Box Office 020 7492 0810
Booking to 18th February 2017
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 9th March 2016 performance at the Shaftesbury Theatre, 210 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8DP (Tube: Tottenham Court Road)
Musical Numbers
Act One
    "Prologue (Papa Was a Rolling Stone)"
  • "Battle of the Stars (Part One)"
  • "Battle of the Stars (Part Two)"
  • "Hey Joe! (Black Like Me)"
  • "Reet Petite"
  • "To Be Loved"
  • "Money (That's What I Want)"
  • "Got A Job"
  • "Get Ready - Dancing in the Street"
  • "Lonely Teardrops"
  • "It's What's in the Grooves That Counts"
  • "Shop Around"
  • "Stubborn Kind of Fellow"
  • "Please, Mr Postman"
  • "You've Really Got a Hold on Me"
  • "Do You Love Me"
  • "A Breathtaking Guy"
  • "My Guy - Buttered Popcorn"
  • " My Guy (Reprise)"
  • "Supremes Medley (Where Did Our Love Go?)"
  • "Stop! In the Name of Love"
  • "Shotgun"
  • "Love Is Here and Now You're Gone"
  • "You're Nobody "Til Somebody Loves You"
  • "My Girl"
  • "You're All I Need to Get By"
  • "My Girl (Reprise)"
  • "I Hear a Symphony"
  • "War"
  • "What's Going On"
Act Two
  • "Ball of Confusion"
  • " Ball of Confusion (Reprise)"
  • "I Heard It Through the Grapevine (Medley)"
  • "I Got the Feelin' "
  • "Who's Loving You"
  • "The Happening"
  • "Jackson 5 Medley (I Want You Back - ABC - The Love You Save)"
  • "Inner City Blues"
  • "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)"
  • "Good Morning Heartache"
  • "Give It to Me Baby - Being With You - Brick House - Super Freak - Square Biz "
  • "Happy Birthday"
  • "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours"
  • "Remember Me"
  • "Can I Close the Door (on Love)"
  • "Ain't no Mountain High Enough"
  • "Dancing in the Street - I Wish"
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