Motown the Musical, currently playing at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London, is a lively, easy-going show, with legendary music crammed into every minute of it. Fast paced and energetic, the show revolves heavily around the music of Motown, with pieces of story weaved in. The show, although primarily just good fun, does not shy away from touching on more serious points linked in with the culture surrounding Motown, adding a sense of depth to the production.
Although I personally didn't think that the show was quite as infectiously fun as similar musicals such as Jersey Boys and Sunny Afternoon, it is a thoroughly enjoyable production. And if you know and love the music of Motown, this is definitely the show for you.
For the vast majority of the time, Motown the Musical is extremely engaging. The songs are packed in tightly, so it is never too long before you get to hear one of your favourites. Occasionally I felt that the songs could have been broken up a little more, but this never lasted long.
In terms of audience involvement, Motown toes the line and manages to get it just right. It could have been made as a really cheesy, audience involved all the time sort of show – instead, there is some audience involvement (mostly in a subtle way), but it just about remains a musical, and not a concert.
Motown is never too slow. On the contrary, it sometimes comes across as a little breakneck. Again, this is really just because there are so many songs back-to-back in the show, and less detail in the story. But the pace, overall, is extremely good.
I will never cease to be amazed at how incredibly talented child actors can be. When I saw Motown, Kwame Kandekore was playing the three children in the production, and I was blown away by how he owned the stage whenever he was on it.
Cedric Neal, playing Berry Gordy, did a great job of carrying the show, and keeping the audience engaged with his story. He had an absolutely wonderful voice, which was a real pleasure to hear. Similarly, the rest of the principal cast displayed an impressive range of vocal abilities, each suiting perfectly the performer who they were portraying.
As I have mentioned, Motown relies extremely heavily on its music. Most of the songs in the show are performed “in concert”, as such, although some were more embedded into the story. Even if you don't know much about Motown, you will recognise a lot of the numbers performed. It really is legendary music.
The orchestra were fabulous, and displayed incredible versatility in switching from one style of music to another in the space of minutes. The variety of music in the show is something that really makes Motown stand out; even if you are not particularly taken by one song, you will find that the next one really hits a chord (… excuse the pun).
The staging of Motown is good – the stage is always very full-of-life, and evidently a lot of effort has been put into finding ways to make the show look interesting, as well as sounds interesting. Although there are no flying people or barricades, touches like the silhouettes used mean that there is always plenty going on to look at.
The choreography of the show was energetic and sharp, and added a lot to the atmosphere of the production.
Would Most People Enjoy It? ★★★★
Most people will enjoy Motown. You don't have to know all of the music, or the history of the record company; there will be enough in the show that you will recognise. There is really nothing not to like about the show; it is easy-going, and good fun. It is certainly a very safe bet if you want to take a large group of people to see a show, and you are trying to find something that everybody will like.
The “Wow” Factor ★★★
There are some great moments in Motown – primary, when songs are played that, clearly, everybody in the audience has been looking forward to. On the whole, the show is not too intense, so there aren't loads of built-up, epic moments, which you might have in a more traditional musical – even so, there are a lot of really memorable points in the performance.
If you go to see Motown the Musical, you will leave the show feeling upbeat and energetic. It is not similar in style to Jersey Boys or Sunny Afternoon, but similar in the fact that the music is genuinely fantastic. You can catch the show at the Shaftesbury Theatre until the end of October 2017.
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