Motown The Musical Review

Hull New Theatre – until 6 July 2019

Reviewed by Catherine McWilliams


I was lucky enough to see Motown The Musical in the West End two years ago, but let me tell you that this touring production is far superior! It is a total treat, jam packed with talented young actors, full of verve and passion. And the music…. just incredible, the band led by Griff Johnson is tight and funky, the singing sublime. The audience at the Hull New Theatre was quickly on their feet at the end of last night’s performance to give the cast a more than justified standing ovation.

The performance starts in 1983 in Pasadena California as the various Motown artists gather to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the label. We are then taken back to the beginning of the story when Berry Gordy (Edward Baruwa) borrows the money off his family to start his new label. He then starts to sign artists and what talent he signs, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Four Tops, Mary Wells, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and the Supremes and the Jackson 5. The music is of course almost non-stop but feeds into the story, with over 50 songs included and yet I guarantee there will be songs that you love that aren’t in the show.

The story follows Berry Gordy’s personal relationships as well as looking at the workings of the label, but far more importantly it puts the development of the label and the artists into context by referencing what is going on around them. It is easy to forget that Motown was started in an era of segregation, but we see a concert with police on the stage and signs for a segregated audience. The use of archive video footage shows us JFK’s assassination, Martin Luther King, race riots and the Vietnam War. One of the most powerful pieces is just before the interval when the cast perform “War Child”, leading into Marvin Gaye’s (Shak Gabbidon-Williams) “What’s Going On

Edward Baruwa as Berry Gordy is of course the central pin of the whole performance and he commands the stage, his voice powerful but sweet. Surely I wasn’t the only member of the audience with tears in my eyes as he sang “Can I Close the Door”? Breathtaking.

But this story is also about the Motown artists, Karis Anderson was stunning as Diana Ross from the naïve sweet school girl to the diva she became, her voice was beautiful and at times tear jerking. Shak Gabbidon-Williams (Marvin Gaye) has quite simply an incredible voice, I could have listened to his songs all night. Nathan Lewis was a wonderful Smokey Robinson making the perfect foil for Berry Gordy. Special mention should go to Carlo Braithwaite for his portrayal of a young Michael Jackson, what moves he had! The audience loved him.

The ensemble played the rest of the artists, musically stunning, choreography that was spot on for the era, such an incredibly talented bunch.

The costumes (Emilio Sosa) were fabulous and so many costume changes and wig changes, yet the whole performance is slick and stylish. David Korins’ sets were deceptively simple but very effective in taking us from office to home to nightclub to tv studio.

The story alone would make a good night out at the theatre, add in the fabulous music and the talented cast and it becomes a no-brainer. If you want to float out of the theatre knowing you’ve had a great night then go and catch Motown The Musical.