Motown the Musical
“great talent but not a great story”
I don’t like writing negative reviews of shows. Instead, I like to explain why I personally wasn’t a fan, but also focus on the positives of the show and think why others may enjoy it.
Motown the Musical is an exciting show, packed with high energy and is definitely fun, but not much else.
As explained in the promotional material for the show, Motown the Musical is about how Berry Gordy founded the Motown industry. It has similar themes in this respect to Memphis – which actually also played at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 2014. I adored Memphis, I think the history surrounding integrating “black” rock and roll into “white” American 50s and 60s societies is both interesting and important and I had heard good things about Motown the Musical – all of which contributed to my high expectations.
However, within the first half an hour of the show, it was clear that Berry Gordy had already established the Motown genre, with its new building, a name for the genre and a few artists lined up. Where is the story going to go then, I wondered?
Apparently, in lots of different directions. The musical briefly touches on many subplots, including Diana Ross’ career, the relationship between Berry Gordy and Diana Ross, the backstory of The Supremes, Martin Luther King and black power, protests, and the finding/development of more artists, such as the Jackson 5 and Stevie Wonder.
I had expected the show to be more focused on Berry’s struggle to found the industry and get the music played. I admit that this could be down of my expectation based on Memphis but either way, what the story did tell didn’t pull me in very much at all.
In my opinion, there were too many songs crammed in along with too many scene and costume changes to really get into the story or feel any emotion for the characters. I admit I got a little emotional when the successful Motown artists welcomed Berry Gordy onto the stage to thank him for their career, but other than that, my attention wasn’t peaked further than “I like this song”.
I appreciate that fitting 25 years’ worth of a backstory into one two-and-a-half-hour show is tricky but for me, it simply didn’t work.
Now, what I can tell you is that Motown the Musical – much like Motown as a genre – is all about the music. And boy did it have some showstoppers. Contributing to my general dislike of the show may have been that I didn’t know 80% of the tunes, but the people around me (of an older generation) certainly did and certainly loved it. “My Girl” by The Temptations, “Ain’t No Mountain” by Diana Ross and “Want You Back” by The Jackson 5 were some of the only songs I knew but they were nothing short of fantastic.
The talent on the stage is mesmerising and the atmosphere in the auditorium was electric – even for a Thursday matinee! From the second the music came on the audience came alive and every single member of the cast gave an outstanding performance.
The dancing was second to none, including backflips, the splits, 70s dance and so much more. Stars of the show certainly were Jay Perry as Berry Gordy and Natalie Kassanga as Diana Ross. And without a doubt, Cruz Lee-Ojo stole the show for me as a young Michael Jackson. (The role of young Michael Jackson is shared among four young actors and rotates). Carl Spencer who played Marvin Gaye also gave a heartwrenching performance of “What’s Going On”.
Saying this, the whole ensemble gave outstanding performances in their multiple roles, taking on the personas of the likes of The Supremes, The Temptations and more.
The artistic creation of the show is also among the best I have seen. With Diana Ross having around 12 wigs alone, not to mention a whole array of costume changes, the visual aspect of the show was faultless.
I can completely understand why people would enjoy this show – especially if you are of a generation that grew up with the music, the integration of society and this is all a part of your history. Or if you simply love the music and want to have a good time, this is a show you will enjoy and will be entertained by.
But if you’re more like me and like a show to have a strong story that pulls you in and draws you to characters and emotions as well as great music and dancing, I personally would say this isn’t the show for you.
It was fun and I’m glad I’ve ticket it off my list but for me the show was only full of great talent, not a great story.