Director: Charles Randolph-Wright
Musical arrangement: Ethan Popp
Choreographers: Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams
Reviewer: Julia Beasley
If a musical is actually about music, it should surely celebrate that music in all its full-blown glory. Motown the Musical is undoubtedly about some of the best soul music of the twentieth century. So it’s a bit disappointing that this show romps over-excitedly through its vast jukebox like a prime minister through a wheat field, trampling and curtailing songs as it goes.
The show is based on producer Berry Gordy’s autobiography To Be Loved: the Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown. It was in Detroit (‘motor town’) that Gordy developed the record labels Tamla Records and then Motown Records. This production gives him the starring role and – surprise! – casts him in a very good light.
Gordy’s Tamla/Motown trademark was always associated with slickly choreographed, smartly suited African American musical artists. Starting with Smokey Robinson & The Miracles in 1959, the artists included Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, Jimmy Ruffin, the Four Tops, the Supremes, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, Stevie Wonder and the Jackson 5.
Amongst the best of the wonderfully big, bold voices squeezing 50 hits into 2 ½ hours in Motown the Musical are Edward Baruwa (Berry Gordy), Karic Anderson (Diana Ross) and Shak Gabbidon-Williams (Marvin Gaye). Cutest by far is Yami Mirazi, who belts it out and has some neat footwork as the young Michael Jackson.
The show reveals how the Gordy formula was nowhere more effective than for the Supremes. We also see that the demise of Motown was triggered by his obsession with Diana Ross, with whom he had an affair. He neglected his core business to promote her solo career, even arranging for her to star in a film (Lady Sings the Blues) though she had no experience of acting.
Eventually, Ross ditched Gordy and Motown, as did Marvin Gaye and the Jackson 5. The beloved independent label was then thoroughly eclipsed by the giants of the music industry.
The resulting musical biog is exuberant, toe-tapping fun – endlessly glitzy and well-produced, as can be expected from Bristol’s premier light entertainment venue. You may well be dancing in the street afterwards – but don’t expect anything deeper than musical bling from this sparkly show.
Runs until 2 February 2019 | Image: Tristram Kenton