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  • Writer's pictureFrances

Motown the Musical Review | Opera House | Manchester

Want to hear countless Motown classics in one musical? Of course, you do.

In a production of glittering proportions, the barrier-shattering, record-breaking Detroit label brings its artists to the Opera House to relive the birth of its legendary hit factory. With an infectious repertoire of songs that run throughout its marvellous musical, Motown brings out its heavy hitters to unpack the artistry behind the label’s success. Playing out the personal story of Berry Gordy (played by Edward Baruwa), the show highlights the seminal moments that formed the unique studios sound and shaped the careers of artists including Smokey Robinson, Rick James and Diana Ross.

We follow founder Berry Gordy, who fashioned his independent label from a dream and an $800 loan borrowed from family members. Created in 1959 with the young African American songwriter at its helm, the story skims the surface of the black sixties’ rebellion. As the by-product of racism, segregation and economic disadvantages brought a strong resistance from the civil rights movement, the show touches on the difficulties of the time but keeps focused on Gordy’s American Dream and professional relationships. Writer, Berry Gordy has based his musical on his autobiography To Be Loved; The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown (1994). As a result, the rhythm and blues jukebox musical is honestly about showcasing the label's talent.

Here the artist's stronghold on pop music meant their uplifting spirit could be spread by the bright, pageantry of his prevalent artists. As the stars continued to reign supreme in the charts, a positive representation of African American’s swept through to a greater TV and radio audience who couldn’t resist the Motown sound. As the labels conveyer belt of safe, glossy artists were shaped by Maxine Powell’s charm school, the songs remained rooted in love and unity, channelled by polished performers.

For the music alone, this show has a lot of heart, performed by an enormous cast of gifted musicians with a marvellous mixture of hits. Audiences are treated to Shak Gabbidon-Williams' (Marvin Gaye's) stunning rendition of his classics alongside the charismatic Daniel Haswell as Stevie Wonder. However, booming successes Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours) and What’s Going On without delving into the real difficulties of the period or what caused Motown's broken relationships and losses leaves the story somewhat thin.

Embracing the soulful sounds of its talented cast through over fifty songs, this real tale of unfathomable success does not deny you any of the classics you want to hear. Gordy’s upbeat story brings multicoloured projected backgrounds, twisting choreography and a rich selection of costumes to ensure audiences relive the golden sixties with him. With a universality to their music, the prolific songs from its seasoned artists are likely to have connected to its audience, at the very least through osmosis and when the live band begin the beat to The Jackson Five’s I Want You Back, the draw of its instantly recognisable classic is too hard to resist.

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