Motown the Musical | Theatre Review

Words by Ashley Boyle

“An energetic and fun performance which traces the milestone moments of Motown”

Having already watched this stage production in London 2 years ago, I was beyond thrilled to be given the chance to review Motown the Musical here in Cardiff. Growing up, I was exposed to all of the great sounds of Motown at my grandma’s, making the genre among my favourites. The show manages to link as many of the great artists and songs which originated from Motown Records with the true story of Berry Gordy seamlessly, keeping the audience entertained and amused throughout.

The show focuses on Berry Gordy’s musical journey with Motown Records. We are invited to learn more about how the label was founded, the problems Gordy and the artists faced as well as the great music created under it. The story also focuses on the racism and conflict experienced by black musicians during the time of Motown, making references to Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement.

When creating the label, our protagonist Berry Gordy, played by Edward Baruwa, is a newly divorced man who seeks support from his family to start the business venture. After moving back home, the audience are treated to an intimate performance of ‘To Be Loved’ by Gordy, a song originally sung by ‘Reet Petite’ singer, Jackie Wilson. The performance sees Berry play a few quiet notes on the piano in the corner of the stage. He appears to be articulating the song in the moment, showing his talents for song writing, wide eyed and inspired by the spontaneity of his lyrics. As the song develops, Baruwa’s exceptional vocal talents are displayed to the audience as he moves to centre stage, accompanied only by a spotlight.

Another notable performer within the Motown cast was Shak Gabbidon-Williams who played artist Marvin Gaye. The way in which Shak moved across the stage really captured the suave and appealing persona of Gaye. He portrays the cool and infectious charm of Gaye through toe-tapping tunes such as ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’, where the audience were invited to join in with the performance, making it a highlight of the night.

The story also focuses heavily on the relationship Diana Ross had with the Motown label. From starting out as one of the Supremes to solo stardom, Diana, played by Stooshe singer Karis Anderson, captivates the audience with her impressive vocal talent. During the performance of ‘Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)’, Diana wears a striking white frock. As she addresses the “Las Vegas” spectators, she invites members of the audience to sing with her on stage, followed by a harmonious wave of hands to the tune, orchestrated by Anderson.

As well as impressive vocals, the set used to tell the story of Gordy’s ‘Motor City’ label was also notable. Several electronic screens, some spanning the height and others the width of the stage, would move seamlessly throughout the night, helping to split scenes and locations with graphics and colours. One scene in particular where this staging was most effective showed the several new signings and songs promoted by the Motown label during their most difficult period, where each track produced helped to keep Gordy’s dream afloat. As each new act took to the stage, the screens would change their branding to suit whilst also presenting the real album covers of the artists. Acts included The Commodores, Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson, another of the important songwriters of the Motown reign.

These notable performers, coupled with the energetic choreography and Motown music, made for a great show that left most of the attendees ‘Dancing in the Street’ at the end of the night.