U. K. Review: “Motown The Musical" - UK & Ireland Tour

3. MOTOWN THE MUSICAL. Karis Anderson 'Diana Ross' and The Supremes. Photo Tristram Kenton - resized.jpg

Lewis Baird

  • United Kingdom Critic

The tagline for “Motown The Musical" is The songs. The sound. The story. And within this musical, these three elements definitely deliver. From now until the 8th December, Motown is playing Edinburgh’s glitziest theatre, The Playhouse. Many people are mistaken for getting the impression that “Motown the musical" is an expensive tribute show, it really isn't.

The musical follows the story of Berry Gordy, the man who established Motown Records and helped many artists find fame. This true story features legendary soul singers such as Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and the Jackson 5.

Edward Baruwa as Berry Gordy is champagne casting, he leads this story effortlessly. The character journey is portrayed so believably, giving Gordy such depth, showing a stern exterior, but with charismatic energy. Even though the musical features many different diverse issues, including the struggles of being an African American in the 1930s to the 1970s and the assassination of JFK, Baruwa doesn't over act these moments, instead supplies a more factual representation. As well as Edward delivering with his acting, his vocal technique is superb, the elegant control he displays while singing is rare to see from a male lead.

Karis Anderson is simply divine as Diana Ross. The sass and power Karis brings to the stage is incredible. Her powerhouse of a voice helps back up this presence, giving a performance to remember. The only slight issue, was within a rather cliché romantic scene with Gordy, her portrayal did drop slightly, with a cheesy delivery of dialogue, however, maybe it is the script that is at fault for this slip up. Karis’ showcase of her impressive improvisation skills in act two made up for this slight issue.

Nathan Lewis definitely surprises the audience as Smokey Robinson, he supplies whit, great vocals, smooth dance moves and a truly lovely portrayal of a much respected Motown legend. Shak Gabbidon-Williams drives the emotion within the production as Marvin Gaye, his passionate portrayal into this unseen, delicate side of the iconic singer, moves the audience.

Lets also not forget Keiran Edwards as young Berry/Michael Jackson/Stevie Wonder. He was outstanding! His ability and devotion to adapt for each of these characters really is incredible.

Now onto the HUGE ensemble for this musical. They are by far currently one of the most talented ensembles in musical theatre within the UK. Their ability to adapt from artists of Motown records with stunning vocal technique, into supremely skilful dancers, is by all accounts astonishing.

Charles Randolph-Wright directs this production, his staging and style for this musical definitely is slightly different from any average linear musical. The moments with simply dialogue are used very efficiently, where the actors use these mostly short scenes to stretch out their character's depth, which works effectively to establish these characters as the iconic artists they are based on. There are also some rather outlandish segments, where there is no fourth wall. The actors speak directly to the audience, mainly as a device to warm up the audience, it also happens during the musical numbers. During a Diana Ross performance there is a very fun and pretty original moment for a musical where an audience member needs to participate. This is thanks to Charles using the music in this production to do what it says on the tin, entertain the audience, by mostly transforming these numbers into concert performances, rather than random moments of these real people singing.

The numbers are lifted by the performers giving such energy with Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams' stellar choreography. The complex dances, fit the music and use the performance stage efficiently.

The set for this musical is a frame styled video wall, there are also several sliding video walls on stage, with a few light backdrops. This was designed by David Korins, Daniel Brodie and Andrew D Edwards. Even though this sounds very minimalistic, it works very effectively as a brilliant contemporary set, which rather than contradict the 70s style, it amplifies it. Also gave the amazing illusion of the artists simply appearing on stage. Unfortunately, there was a few technical issues this evening which couldn't be helped, however, none the less, visually this musical has a varied and high quality design.

This musical is simply a delightful surprise. As even though it is raved about critically, there is not much of a buzz about it within the musical theatre community. I believe it is very underrated for the story it tells and the sublime talent it showcases. This is definitely a must see musical.

Check out the Motown musical website for tickets in Edinburgh, London and elsewhere on tour.

Ensemble- Dayo Adeoye, Natalia Brown, Akeem Ellus-Hyman,  Daniel Haswell, Andrew Dillon, Christopher Gopaul, Olivia Hibbert, Karis Jack, Abz Kareem, Deearna McLean, Michael Jeremiah, Kane Matthews, Matt Mills, Cordell Mosteller, Spencer O'Brien, Alex Okoampa, Nicole Nyarambu, Perry O'Dea, Reece Richards, Emma Robotham-Hunt, Ethan Davis, Amana Jones, Scott Armstrong, Scott Armstrong and Simeon Beckett.

Costume Design – Emilio Sosa

Lighting Design – Natasha Katz

Sound Design – Peter Hylenski

Producer – Berry Gordy