Reviewed by Joanne Hughes
MUSIC FOR THE SOUL
In the 60th year of Detroit (Motown) soul, this musical is very pertinent as it highlights how the famous motor city sound was born. Based on the book by Motown founder Berry Gordy, the show recreates the original classic sound of the motor city Detroit, with all its soulful harmonies and ballads, whilst retelling the story of the highs and lows encountered by this legendary music label.
From the opening scene of a friendly music standoff between The Four Tops and The Temptations, you know you are going to be wowed by the musical prowess of the cast – and there was not a moment of disappointment throughout the show – the singing was stupendous, energetic and full of soul.
The musical takes us from a scene in which a moody Gordy is refusing to appear at the 25th birthday celebration of his Motown creation, to whizzing back in time to his first pivotal childhood memory – that of the victorious boxing match of the legendary Joe Louis, which also signified a change for the ‘black’ people. It is this moment which inspires Gordy to set out to make a difference in the world. We learn of his early failures as a boxer, salesman and car-worker, and then, with the help of money from his family, his success in the founding of Motown, which became a hit machine, and not only changed the face of music, but that of popular culture.
Cordell Mosteller, who stepped into the role of Gordy at the last moment, gave an amazing performance as the talented songwriter and music scout that nurtured and launched the careers of many well-known musical stars, including Diana Ross and the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and the Jackson 5. The songs and his energy brought life to this lovable and strong character, particularly in the portrayal of the love relationship between Gordy and Diana Ross.
Diana herself, played by Karis Anderson, transforms from an eager schoolgirl, to lead singer of the Supremes, and into the famous solo megastar. Karis’ impressive vocal cords are a highlight of the show, and her interaction with the audience (on her opening solo night in Las Vegas) has everyone wanting to “reach out and touch hands” as she sings to you.
We are treated to an explosion of Motown music, with excerpts from more than fifty songs. Some songs, such as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”, and “You’re All I Need To Get By” enable the story to move forward, others, such as “War”, portray the political scene of the United States at that time, whilst others are an enjoyable immersion into the music genre itself – “My Girl” and “Dancing in the Street”.
The musical also portrays the political events of the era, with visual projections of the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr, the Vietnam War and race riots We see how these events influence the Motown label, in particular in the scene with a young Marvin Gaye, (convincingly characterised by Shak Gabbidon-Williams) troubled by the world around him, convincing Gordy to sanction his protest album.
Over time, Gordy becomes disillusioned with his dream to promote new talent, and further the careers of his stars, as those same stars jump ship to companies with bigger budgets but no family atmosphere. In the closing scenes, we are transported back to the ‘present’ in which we started, to see Gordy’s long-serving friend/star, Smokey Robinson (charmingly played throughout the show by the talented Nathan Lewis) impress upon Gordy to attend the birthday celebration, which he does. The show culminates with Gordy and the array of stars he helped flourish singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, to which the entire audience stood and joined in.
Motown the Musical is currently playing at the impressive New Victoria Theatre in Woking. This theatre is situated at the top of the Peacock Shopping Centre, which has a covered carpark attached. The theatre is modern and has several bars where you can purchase food and drink, as well as additional features such as an amplified sound system for the hard of hearing. The staff are friendly and helpful, and the seating in the auditorium ensures everyone has a good view of the stage. This marvellous musical will appeal to all, as everyone will have heard some of the songs, and will enjoy the choreography, the music, the stunning costumes, and this beautiful rags-to-riches story. So don’t waste time, and “Motown” to Woking to experience this prodigious performance.
Tickets cost from £13 (plus £3.65 transaction fee).
Motown The Musical is at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking from 20-24 August 2019, for more information or to book tickets visit www.atgtickets.com/new-victoria-theatre or call the box office on 0844 871 7645.
New Victoria Theatre, The Ambassadors, Peacocks Centre, Woking, Surrey, GU21 6GQ