Wednesday, 21 August 2019

REVIEW: Motown The Musical at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

The Motown Record label was one of the most influential record labels ever created, with artists such as Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, the Temptations, Stevie Wonder and many many more being managed by it in its time. It was only natural that a musical to celebrate this fantastic era of music would be created. ‘Motown the Musical’ is based upon Berry Gordy’s 1994 autobiographyTo Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown, and gives a historical insight into what truly happened with the Motown era. Having enjoyed three years in the West End, the UK tour is in full swing.

Motown the Musical features all the hit songs from the era. Sixty six to be precise. All these songs are cut together to tell Berry Gordy’s story of creating the Motown label, giving a full history from humble beginnings to the end of the era. It features his involvement with Diana Ross and the Supremes, his friendship and working relationship with Smokey Robinson and many of the bands that made Motown iconic.

As a show, whilst there is a strong historic story behind it, it can get clumsy and confused. Sometimes it’s a Motown concert, sometimes a story, with the two links never fully marrying on stage. The show breaks the fourth wall on several accounts, but it never makes sense with the way the show has been set up, so surprised me each time it happened. The songs rarely play out in full, which can be disappointing especially with songs like ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’, ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’ and ‘ABC’ for me. It feels like as a show they’re trying to fit in too many numbers and as a result it feels rushed. Charles Randolph-Wright as director staged it well, although it felt like the attention was given to the leads, with a lot of overacting in the ensemble. The choreography was strong and slick for the most part, although a couple of times you could see that this tour has been going for 9 months already. Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams as choreographers gave clever choreography to make it smooth and exciting, whilst not so complex that it made you want to dance along too.

However, the thing that hit you from the beginning and knocked you over was the sound. Griff Johnson leading the band absolutely blew me away – the band sounded phenomenal and got your soul right from the first note. With a show like Motown, you would want that to be the case, and with the singing, the show truly excelled when the cast were singing with the band, creating the music of Motown.

Cordell Mosteller was the star of the night. He had such ease and naturalism playing Berry Gordy that he had the audience in the palm of his hand. And what a voice too! The highlight of the evening was him and Karis Anderson (who gave a great performance as Diana Ross) singing the duet ‘You’re all I Need to Get By’. Nathan Lewis as Smokey Robinson was a safe pair of hands with strong likeability and a great vocal performance too.

Overall for me the show in itself can’t decide whether it’s an ultimate tribute show or a show about the history of Motown. Despite the flaws with the show it calls for a great evening of entertainment and certainly you’ll be up on your feet dancing by the end of the night!

Review by Adam Yorke

Rating: ★★★

Seat: F37 | Price of Ticket: £50
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