“A place where a kid off the street could walk in one door an unknown and go out another a star.” Berry Gordy
Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, Diana Ross and the Supremes and of course Michael Jackson and The Jackson 5 are among many artists that changed the shape of music back in the sixties and seventies with one thing in common, the Motown label. The teenager and I went to see Motown The Musical last week at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London which celebrates the story of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy accompanied by an impressive set list of so many great Motown artists.
I love the West End and going to the theatre is always on my summer to-do list, Motown the Musical was the perfect show with over fifty toe tapping songs performed to perfection. From the first note to the encore, the music was on point, the singing and dancing was awesome and the enjoyment factor was off the scale.
Gordy singlehandedly transformed the face of music when he set up Motown Records (originally Tamla Records) in Detroit back in 1958 with a $800 loan from his family savings fund. Turning his dream into a musical legacy he gave black artists the opportunity to move into mainstream entertainment and cross the race divide, empowering other artists and fans worldwide. The show touched on the political and racial tensions of the time including the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Motown the Musical steers the audience through the decades song by song with some amazing performances, most notably from the talented performers portraying Gordy (Cedric Neal), Ross (Lucy St. Louis) and the young Michael Jackson (Bradley Morton who also played the young Gordy and Wonder).
Known for its car manufacturing Detroit was nicknamed ‘Motor City’ inspiring Gordy to name his new company Motown, producing hits from his recording studio in a converted garage called ‘Hitsville U.S.A’. From the early sixties onwards Gordy signed a plethora of artists such as The Supremes, Gaye, Wonder, The Temptations, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and the rest as they say is history. The hits continued through the seventies but artists started to get poached by rich record companies such as CBS, in the early eighties Ross who was also Gordy’s partner, left Motown after signing with RCA followed by Gaye. In 1983 Gordy sold Motown to MCA Records thus ending its independent distribution.
Undeterred by the embarrassed sideway glances of my companion, I sang my way through the show and she was definitely joining in too, with classics such as ‘Dancing in The Street’, ‘ABC’, ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ and ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ it was difficult not too, they may have even been dancing at the end too but that’s between you and me. The story starts with songwriter and music mogul Gordy refusing to attend the twenty-five anniversary celebrations of Motown, then goes back in time to where it all began and how the company grew into a worldwide phenomenon, ending with Gordy attending the party with all his former acts as the finale number.
Originally opening in 2013 on Broadway, New York to great acclaim, Motown the Musical premiered in the West End on 8th March this year and is now booking until 28th October 2017. The perfect show for Motown enthusiasts, fans of musical theatre or those who enjoy a good old singalong
Motown The Musical
Location: Shaftesbury Theatre, 210 Shaftesbury Avenue, London. WC2H 8DP
Telephone:020 7379 5399
Book tickets online here
Performance Times: Monday – Saturday 7:30pm, Matineees on Thursday & Saturday at 3:00pm
Read more about the Motown story here
Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this page © Jo Brett 2016. All rights reserved.