Motown the Musical might be one of the most anticipated shows to reach Leeds Grand Theatre this year.
After its Broadway and West End success, we’ve finally got a regional UK tour, which opened in the city last night to be greeted with a standing ovation and excited chatter as the packed theatre filed out into the November night.
Motown the Musical features all the music fans around the world love – but this isn’t just a celebration of the musical phenomenon. This is Berry Gordy – who developed the musical – setting out his history, his version of events away from tabloid gossip and lawsuits and controversy.
And it’s a story worth telling. Motown Records made history from its humble beginnings – and its back catalogue wins new fans even now.
Ok, so I’m stating the obvious here. But let’s face it, it’s why tickets are selling so fast for the show’s 12-day run at Leeds Grand Theatre. This is music that started humbly in Detroit then became a global phenomenon, welcoming generations of fans and still attracting new ones to this day.
The show’s opening is a musical attack of hit after hit as the Four Tops and the Temptations compete for your attention – and from there it feels like mere seconds between classic Motown songs, woven into the script or performed by the cast. It’s almost overwhelming and reminds you just how epic the Motown empire was.
And while the show arguably celebrates the magic of Motown, the back catalogue packs an emotional punch when woven with the history of the company and its place in music history. Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On is an emotional moment in act one, followed by a thrillingly defiant rendition of Edwin Starr’s War.
The theme of love is the soul of Motown. Berry and Diana singing You’re All I Need to Get By , originally performed by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, could have been a bit twee, but such was the talent of the cast (more on that later) it was a genuine, tender, uplifting moment.
I left desperately wanting a huge Motown playlist so I could relive the evening.
The Motown Orchestra are phenomenal. This show would not work without a live band and my god did they deliver. Hats off to conductor Griff Johnson for leading such a tight, talented group.
Motown the Musical celebrates the record label’s legacy when it should. But don’t think the show is simply a nostalgic trip down Motown memory lane – Motown the Musical includes more than just the hit records and successes. We can’t forget this was a record label that started at a time when audiences were segregated in Alabama and when radio stations refused to play ‘black music’. It’s easy to forget that for the powerhouse Motown Records become, it’s beginnings were against a backdrop of societal pain, frustration and inquality.
It’s honest about the pitfalls of the music business – artists moving to new record companies, lured away by more money, groups splitting, even a string of hits not being enough to pay the bills and keep the wheels turning.
But even in the darker moments, you can’t help but back Berry Gordy’s dream. You’re willing him to succeed alongside the wealth of talent around him, you want to stand by them in their fight for equal rights. Motown calls itself a family, and it’s one you want to be a part of.
One of the most enduring messages from Gordy Berry from Motown is his determination to share his music with everyone – creating the legions of fans around the world that Motown has today. Motown helped to heal a segregated society through music, gave Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, the Jackson 5 and countless others an international stage for their talent.
Squabbles and broken record deals aside, these artists have a lot to thank Berry Gordy for – he truly made music history. And now, decades on, he’s developed the story of Motown to ensure it’s never forgotten.
I can’t imagine the pressure of taking on these roles – musical icons – for this show. But the cast of this first regional tour of Motown the Musical are outstanding. There performances are heartfelt tributes to musical heroes.
Edward Baruwa plays Berry Gordy with a perfect blend of comedy and conflict – and what a voice. Away from the pizazz and flair of the performances by the Temptations, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye and more, Berry’s musical interludes have a stripped back, effortless quality about them that makes him mesmerising to watch.
Karis Anderson plays the evolution of Diana Ross from talented teen to musical diva with ease, aided by some of the best costumes in the show and an incredible vocal. And Nathan Lewis, formerly of X Factor boyband Five After Midnight, proved he should never have shared the spotlight in a reality show band when he’s such a natural on the stage.
Shak Gabbidon-William’s Marvin Gaye was one of the most popular castings of the night – bags of charisma and beautiful vocals.
There wasn’t a bum note across the entire ensemble – this show has a powerhouse of incredible voices bringing Motown to life.
And you can’t help but love little Yami Mirazi playing a young Michael Jackson – a huge role with even bigger vocals but he held his own.
Motown the Musical is at Leeds Grand Theatre until Saturday November 17.
Tickets cost Â£15-Â£54 and can be booked via the theatre website or by calling 0844 848 2700.