Motown The Musical at the Liverpool Empire Review

17-28 September 2019

Reviewed by Jan Mellor

“Motown” – what does that word conjure up in the minds of those over 40? Wonderful soulful music, amazing sparkling suits, synchronised dancing and black musicians. It is unique, inspirational and easily recognised and defined. In doing a review, therefore, on the topic of Motown I predicted what I would see – the content, the plot and the scattering of songs that we could all relate and sing along to. However, the cast, director, costumes, props/scenes, songs and choreographers had other ideas and wanted to blow the audience ‘out of the park’ with their rendition of this phenomenon, from the early 1960’s and I would never had imagined the unbelievable performance that lay ahead of me.

The story of Motown unfolded before us explaining the roots of this genre of music that had melted the ingredients of gospel, rock and roll, soul and blues to create this truly distinctive sound all of its own. We were introduced to a young boy Berry Gordy and his family who were celebrating the winning of a boxing match by a black man (Joe Louie) in 1938 against a German defender and just on the cusp of the 2nd World War. Berry, from that young age, wanted desperately to show the talents of the black people of his country and as he grew up, so his passion matured and led him to become the producer /director/ owner of the Motown records label. Through his journey we saw him gather his ‘flock’ of musicians that included Jackie Wilson, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Martha and The Vandellas, Diana Ross and The Supremes, Stevie Wonder and the Jackson 5 and with this ‘family’ of iconic superstars a phenomenon of music reigned supreme.

Through the story we are invited to share Berry’s sheer passion for his dreams to come true, for his music to succeed and his love for the girl with ‘the big eyes’ Diana Ross. We see that Berry and Diana fall madly in love and remain so for many years until being in love with her manager was too much for the ambitious Diana. Throughout this heartfelt story was an astonishing demonstration of pure ‘in your face’ talent with superb singers and dancers who were impeccable in their dancing, singing, and adoption of characters. The amazing backdrop (designed by David Korins) was jaw-dropping with moving lines and psychedelic colours which were so reminiscent of the ‘top of the pops’ shows that we all watched in the 1970’s and the costumes that each dancer/singer wore were fabulously authentic too (well done to Emilio Sosa). The show delivered hit after hit and the audience were all bopping and singing our hearts away loving every single moment of it. It was as if the Empire had been transported to Las Vegas in 1971 and we were all having a private show with these amazing stars. Great songs like ‘Rete petite’, ‘Dancing in the Street’ ’Heard it through the grapevine’, ‘I don’t like you I love you’, ‘My Girl’ ‘Baby where did our love go’? The hits were there for us all to share and enjoy all over again. We also shared the horrors of the assassinations of JFK’s and Martin Luther King and the Vietnam war which gave new meaning to the songs ‘What’s going on’ and ‘War’. Sensational!

I must commend Charles Randolph-Wright for the amazing direction of this performance and the remarkable choreography by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams that was faultless. The costumes by Emilio Sosa were stunning and Natalie Gallacher has cast the most astonishing ensemble for each part in this marvellous show – well done! It was very difficult to acknowledge which of the amazing cast ‘stood out’ as all were exceptional. Mention must go however to the wonderful Edward Baruma, who was sublime as Berry Gordy, Karis Johnson as the diva Diana Ross (a great interaction with getting the audience to participate with her on stage was a real crowd pleaser), Shak Gabbidon-Williams as the tender Marvin Gaye and Kane Matthews as the soulful Smokey Robinson. I just didn’t want the show to end and would go to see it again and again if I could. A truly outstanding performance that should be on everyone’s ‘to see list’ before it is gone. I thought I knew what to expect. I am so glad that everything about this performance exceeded all of my expectations – thank you!   

A fantastic show! Take this trip on a superb journey, experiencing amazing music – a must see!

Rating: 5/5

Tickets cost from £13 (plus £3.65 transaction fee).

Motown The Musical is at the Liverpool Empire from 17-28 September 2019, for more information or to book tickets visit or call the box office on 0844 8713017.

Liverpool Empire, Lime Street, Liverpool, Merseyside, L1 1JE | 0844 8713017

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