Motown The Musical is at Sunderland Empire and here is what to expect – Andrew Musgrove
The cast and crew who visited Newcastle’s Theatre Royal in June are now treading the boards at the Sunderland Empire so it’s a good time to check out our earlier review:
It would be easy to put on a night in tribute to Motown Records where the music is the focus – if anything it would be expected.
The catalogue of hits the label has makes putting on a show relatively easy. What isn’t as easy is telling the story behind founder Berry Gordy Jr and his company, which has gone onto sell hundreds of millions of albums.
The dream of Gordy (played by Edward Baruwa), the race issue, a love affair, and the stress of it all – director Charles Randolph-Wright captures it perfectly with the help of a superb 11-piece live band.
We all know the songs, but to fit them into the tale which moulded arguably the world’s most influential record label is no easy task. Yet Randolph-Wright manages it and takes the Theatre Royal audience on an emotional journey.
A scene from Motown The Musical, UK Tour @ The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham – Edward Baruwa as Berry Gordy Jrn
From the foot-tapping of the opening scene as the Four Tops and Temptations have a sing-off right through to finale as Diana Ross (Karis Anderson) nails Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – there’s a sense of pure joy that Motown has brought us for generations.
But more than the happy memories, the performance at some parts simply takes your breath away – while covering some issues that some may have well brushed over.
Shak Gabbidon-William’s rendition of Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ is an example of this, one that left me with goosepimples as it covered the race riots in the aftermath of Martin Luther King’s death.
Of course, there were three years between King’s death and the release of the single, but that’s where the director and writers have been clever – as the Theatre Royal curtain came down for the interval no one cared about the dates.
The acting can also not be overlooked, Baruwa as Gordy is simply magnificent – emotive, cheeky, and funny, and he is accompanied by a whole range of knock-out performances not least the aforementioned Anderson, and Nathan Lewis who plays Smokey Robinson.
There also has to be mention of Brando Velho, a young man who takes on the role of Michael Jackson as part of the Jackson 5 – his vocal range simply stunned the crowd with the gentleman next to me saying ‘he’s going to be a big star isn’t he?’ Based on what I saw tonight – I wouldn’t bet against it.
The stage was also impressive, big screens afforded a chance of scenery from Las Vegas to Paris – with props effortlessly rolled in.
And if you were ever in doubt at the importance of the Mowtown, you won’t be after you see this. At one point, every member of the audience was asked to grab the hand of the person next to them before swaying their arms back and forth to Diana Ross’ Somebody’s Hand – quite honestly it was something to behold.
A scene from Motown The Musical, UK Tour @ The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham. (Opening 11-10-18) ©Tristram Kenton 10-18 (3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355)email: [email protected]
From Stevie Wonder to the Commodores most of the big stars were accounted for, and while their mannerisms may have been similar to the originals, their voices weren’t – the stars of the show were allowed to show their own vocal genius – and by God did it work. You could say in telling the story, the legacy of Motown – gets it Signed, Sealed and Delivered.
Motown the Musical runs at The Sunderland Empire from October 15 to 26.