REVIEW: Motown The Musical has audiences dancing in the seats

Motown The Musical. Photo by Tristram Kenton.
Motown The Musical. Photo by Tristram Kenton.

A musical based on the autobiography of the man who founded a ground-breaking Detroit record label has opened at the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield.

Motown The Musical It features wonderful songs from the legendary catalogue, sung with great passion and authenticity.

Olivia Hibbert, Nathan Lewis, Shak Gabbidon-Williams and Daniel Haswell are outstanding as Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder.

Richard King as a young Michael Jackson is captivating.

The ensemble also give us the Four Tops, the Temptations, the Supremes, the Jackson Five and more.

But it’s the man who signed them who’s at the heart of the show, Berry Gordy, played by Edward Baruwa – the elder statesman among the cast of youthful, energetic performers.

The musical opens on the day of the Motown 25 celebrations in 1983: all the artists have come together for a special performance – but Gordy is bitter that so many of them have deserted his label for more lucrative deals. We then see his story in a series of flashbacks.

Baruwa’s complex and witty portrayal of Berry Gordy leaves one in no doubt about the latter’s talent and achievement, but it also makes one wonder if there were more than commercial reasons for his artists breaking away from him. He was their father-figure, guiding them in their choices. But in the end they needed to make those choices for themselves.

The social and political background is fascinating: the impact of the inspirational boxer Joe Louis on the lives of ordinary black people in America; segregation; the civil rights movement; the deaths of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King. All this is powerfully conveyed. The costumes, scene changes and lighting effects are sensational.

Motown the Musical is on until Saturday, November 30.