Motown is a jukebox musical by Berry Gordy, which is based on his autobiography ‘To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown’. Gordy founded the Motown record label on 12th January 1959, and, in doing so, defined the sound of the decade and gave life to some of the most loved and famed songs of all time. This show is the story of Gordy’s Motown record label and its music, his professional relationships with some of Motown’s most famous artists, as well as his personal one with Diana Ross. Gordy himself wrote the musical and it features over 40 classic Motown songs.
It also links in with events going on at the time, for example, the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the Vietnam War, and of course the civil rights struggle in America. Gordy struggled against everyone telling him his label was “race music” and maintained that: “Motown was about music for all people – white and black, blue and green, cops and the robbers. I was reluctant to have our music alienate anyone.”
The show begins with a stubborn Berry Gordy resisting attempts to persuade him to attend the 25th anniversary concert of the formation of Motown, and then a flashback takes us on a rollercoaster ride through the story of Motown.
The story begins with an eight year old Berry Gordy, who aspired to be a boxer after Joe Louis won an historic match by knocking out German Max Schmeling. Gordy’s grandfather was a slave in Georgia, and his father, Berry Gordy Snr, moved from Georgia to Detroit to become an automotive factory worker. His father told him to be the best version of himself possible. He gave up his aspiration to be a boxer, however, believing he’d never be Joe Louis, and ended up working on the Ford Motor Company automotive assembly line. He discovered his talent for songwriting when he produced a number one hit for Jackie Wilson.
He then met Smokey Robinson and The Matadors (later The Miracles), and the two formed a partnership, and, frustrated with working for other record companies and not receiving the credit they deserved, together they founded a new record company – Motown. The Miracles produced ‘Shop Around’ which was Motown’s first million seller and helped establish the independent company.
They quickly signed many more stars in the making including: Mary Wells, who was their first major success with Robinson’s ‘My Guy’, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, a young Stevie Wonder and Martha Reeves. The Marvelettes’ first record, ‘Please, Mr Postman’, became Motown’s first number one record.
In 1965, the Tamla-Motown Revue toured the UK and then Europe with the Motortown Revue. The label later signed Gladys Knight and also The Jackson 5. Marvin Gaye’s rendition of ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ was his first number one hit and became Motown’s biggest single at the time.
The Motown label came under threat as their headline groups and singers began to leave for the better deals being offered to them, including Diana Ross, The Jackson 5, and Marvin Gaye. Gordy began negotiations to sell the company but was talked in from the ledge, and Motown revived itself with a series of hits from The Commodores, Rick James and Stevie Wonder. These efforts were unfortunately not enough to keep the label as an independent company and Gordy resigned to sell it.
The show closes with all the Motown stars reuniting to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Motown record label. After a passionate plea from Smokey Robinson, Gordy attends the celebration. It is a very touching story and gives the inside view of a sound that took the world by storm.
Berry Gordy was played by Cedric Neal (After Midnight, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess). Neal is fantastic in this part: the orchestrator of the Motown machine, songwriter, and oh what a voice!
Charl Brown (Motown on Broadway, Hair, Jersey Boys) played Smokey Robinson, who had a key role along with Gordy in the running of Motown and wrote many classic songs. Brown is brilliant in the role, singing the classic ‘Shop Around’ with The Miracles.
Diana Ross was played by Lucy St Louis (Beautiful, The Book of Mormon). She is spectacular, singing and talking exactly like Diana Ross. One of the standout numbers of the show, also much loved by the crowd, was ‘Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)’ which was Diana Ross’ solo debut after she left The Supremes. If your dream is to sing with Diana Ross, sit on the right side of the auditorium and you may get lucky!
Gordy said: “I’ve discovered that Motown and Broadway have a lot in common – a family of wonderfully talented, passionate, hardworking young people, fiercely competitive but also full of love and appreciation for the work, for each other and for the people in the audience.” Based on this performance, we’re inclined to include the West End in this too. The cast were all phenomenal, and the show is high energy, fast moving and packed with amazing songs from start to finish.
Motown is currently showing at the Shaftesbury Theatre and booking until February 2017.
For more information about Motown and tickets visit Box Office’s website here: http://www.boxoffice.co.uk/arts-and-theatre-tickets/musicals/motown-the-musical-tickets.aspx
For more information on your visit to the Shaftesbury Theatre visit West End Theatre Guide’s profile: http://www.westendtheatreguide.london/west-end-theatres/shaftesbury-theatre/