Telling the tale of the legendary and highly influential hit factory founded in the 1960s, Motown the Musical promises an evening filled with some of the greatest songs of all time. Due to its success, the show has been granted an extended run at the Shaftesbury Theatre and will now be there until October 2017, so as huge Motown fans, our hopes were high.
We were seated in the grand circle and although this was furthest from the stage, it was the perfect way to see Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams’ remarkable choreography, as we had the full view of entire dance routines and could fully appreciate the intricately arranged sequences. This commenced with a comedic reconstruction of a Four Tops vs. The Temptations show, where the two bands bicker after delivering an impressive medley of both ensembles’ hits and immediately set the standard of the powerful singing and energetic dancing we would be treated to for the rest of the show.
Under the direction of Charles Randolph-Wright, the story is told from the perspective of the label’s founder, Berry Gordy, who had a great deal of involvement in the show’s production and even auditioned final-stage candidates, the poor things. Gordy began the label with the financial aid of his doubting family, recruiting acts who were then nobodies, such as Smokey Robinson and The Supremes. The story continues to tell of their future success, rise to fame, and issues faced by the Motown empire, such as segregation, love affairs and divas hungry for the limelight. In spite of these milestones, the show as a whole presents a lighthearted and in general joyful recount of these events, punctuated by gloriously uplifting music. The song choices for the show covered a lot of ground, with all the classic Motown hits and a few less well-known tracks to fully present the breadth of quality output from Berry Gordy’s label. The tracks were often condensed down to allow for wider coverage, which allowed for the show to move along at a quick pace and feature all of the songs the audience are there for.
The songs alone are enough to pull in a strong audience, but this show was so much more than just a standard jukebox musical. The performers were able to recreate the iconic stars of the Motown label, as well as displaying pitch perfect, passionate vocals and incredible dancing. It is impossible to highlight any of the actors in this show because the calibre of performance here is so high and delivered with such showmanship. However, it would be unfair not to give the child actor Raphael Higgins-Humes any commendation as he was so confident and exceptional in his execution of roles such as Little Stevie Wonder or a young Michael Jackson. This was all supported by an outstanding pit orchestra and the musical director Gareth Weedon, who flawlessly emulated sound of Motown’s original session band, The Funk Brothers, and performed imaginative renditions of the songs as incidental music, arranged by the reputable Ethan Popp.
The costume, hair, and makeup departments deserve huge credit for their tremendously quick changes with such immaculate portrayals of the original artists. The set and projection designs were spectacular, using long white bars and flats to create convincing scenes and display stylish visuals, all controlled on pulleys to form seamless transitions throughout. These skilfully considered elements are down to the artistic minds of scenic designer David Korins and projections designer Daniel Brodie who deserve high praise for their faultless creations.When we thought it was all over, we were lucky enough to be graced by the presence of Duke Fakir, an original member of the Four Tops, after a standing ovation to close a true triumph of musical theatre. Motown will renew your love of music and give you a new lease of life - a must-see.