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A CurtainUp London Review
Motown: the Musical
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.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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