Review Roundup: MOTOWN THE MUSICAL Opens in the West End
The West End production of Motown the Musical officially opens tonight 8 March 2016. With music and lyrics from the legendary Motown catalogue and book by Motown founder Berry Gordy, Motown the Musical is directed by Charles Randolph-Wright.
The cast of Motown the Musical is led by Cedric Neal as Berry Gordy, Lucy St. Louis as Diana Ross, Charl Brown as Smokey Robinson and Sifiso Mazibuko as Marvin Gaye. They are joined by Keisha Amponsa Banson as Mary Wells, Cindy Belliot as Anna Gordy, Samuel Edwards as Jackie Wilson, Tanya Nicole Edwards as Florence Ballard, Portia Harry as Teena Marie, Aisha Jawando as Martha Reeves, Joshua Liburd as Eddie Kendricks, Simeon Montague as Jermaine Jackson, Cleopatra Rey as Gladys Knight, Brandon Lee Sears as Tito Jackson, Jordan Shaw as Stevie Wonder, Cherelle Williams as Mary Wilson. Eshan Gopal, a 12-year-old from Kingsbury, London, 13-year-old Kwame Kandekore from Leicester and 11-year-old Joshua Tikare from Bromley alternate the role of Young Michael Jackson.
With just $800 borrowed from his family, Motown founder Berry Gordy, goes from featherweight boxer to heavyweight music mogul, discovering and launching the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and many more. Motown the Musical uncovers the true story of the legendary record label that changed music history and created the soundtrack of a generation.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph: If anyone has the right to plunder the gilded back-catalogue for the juke-box musical to end them all, it's Gordy -- still going at 86. And that's what we get here in a lavish, slick, song-crammed show, first seen on Broadway in 2013. In its triumphant new West End incarnation, it gives a valuable leg-up to a mass of young, gifted and black British talent and puts such a spring in its audience's step, you may well see people dancing in the street along Shaftesbury Avenue...The book, written by Gordy, is, as was noted in New York, the evening's weak spot...So likeable is the tireless Neal, a sizzling-hot American import who sings, dances and anchors scene after scene, that you're left persuaded by the flattering portrait of Gordy's integrity...Bolstered by ingenious, fast-moving, projection-enlivened scenery, expert choreography and sure direction from Charles Randolph-Wright, the cast have a platinum-plated ball, savouring the rich sounds, shiny looks, and synchronised, sleek moves of a photogenic era.
Michael Billington, The Guardian: Given that Berry Gordy has written, co-produced and is the lead character in this imported American musical, it is clear that the ego has landed. But, eager as I am as the next person to learn more about the Motown mogul, I was disappointed at how little I discovered. The appeal of this all-too-typical modern musical lies in the capacity of the 50 numbers, many of them severely truncated, to unlock the memories of the baby-boomer generation. The musical's book, based on Berry Gordy's own memoirs, is a shaky vehicle largely designed to facilitate the songs...The music, of course, is what people will go for and it is put across with great pizzazz with the help of a fine pit band under the direction of Gareth Weedon...Charles Randolph-Wright directs this particular pop-parade with kaleidoscopic efficiency and there are decent performances all round. Cedric Neal shows Gordy to be a skilful entrepreneur and tireless talent scout without ever quite explaining what drives him on. Lucy St Louis captures Diana Ross's growth from Supremes singer to fame-hungry diva and Charl Brown conveys Smokey Robinson's laid-back charm.
Michael Coveney, WhatsOnStage: Will Berry Gordy, founder of Motown in Detroit in 1959, go to his own 25th anniversary concert in 1984? Will Diana Ross survive without the other two Supremes? Will Berry and Diana get it on together after a disappointing night in the sack in Paris? These and other questions - why does Smokey Robinson look like Lionel Richie? Why does a race riot become an anti-Vietnam war protest and a tuneless parody of Hair? - flit across an evening then flops in an untidy heap between snatches of Motown classics served up with punch, pizazz and some fairly obvious backtracking enhancement. Of course, if you're going to the theatre for a party or a karaoke evening...you will be cheering all the way through and standing at the end. But you won't be seeing anything half as classy as Jersey Boys, Beautiful - The Carole King Musical or Sunny Afternoon, all of which modestly aspiring back-catalogue shows knitted songs and story with wit, propulsion and clarity.
Mark Shenton, The Stage: Motown the Musical may just be the ultimate jukebox musical...But then no one but Berry Gordy -- the founder of the label -- has ever singlehandedly created and curated a catalogue quite like it. So he has more than earned his moment in the spotlight here, even if the script he has written (based on his self-penned history of the label) is inevitably a bit of a hagiography and full of clunky juxtapositions and worse one-liners. One is ultimately powerless to resist the onslaught of great songs...And here the execution of director Charles Randolph-Wright's sleekly-designed production is absolutely faultless, as is the work of the music department led by musical supervisor Ethan Popp and musical director Gareth Weedon, and the glorious pumping energy created by Peter Hylenski's sound design.
Douglas Mayo, BritishTheatre.com: As Motown the Musical, is very much Gordy telling his own story, the perspective can't always be relied on as entirely accurate, but what comes across is a tenacious man who drove his artists and workforce to be nothing short of the best. Cedric Neal plays Berry Gordy. If Neal's performance embodies even just a fraction of Gordy's real-life zeal, it is easy to see why the man conquered the music scene. Neal gives us a zesty, explosive performance as the man who created the Motown legend. As Diana Ross, Lucy St Louis is a knock-out. St Louise exudes style, charisma and the god-given talent that embodied the work of Diana Ross. It's a performance that will knock your socks off and points towards a starry future for this performer. Charl Brown is Smokey Robinson. You'd swear it was the man himself!...Motown breaks free of the normally constraints of a jukebox musical. It is a joyous, exuberant celebration of life, of challenge and ultimately of success.
Tony Peters, RadioTimes: But while there's no denying the quality of the music...the show hangs the hits on a perfunctory storyline...The singers and the hits just keep coming and it seems they and Gordy (played here by Cedric Neal) can do no wrong...Vital plot points are given scant attention making it confusing for those who don't know the story already...Because what people have come for is the music, of course, and the songs are certainly performed with enough energy to get the audience on their feet. Lucy St Louis captures the breathy style of Diana Ross perfectly...Sifiso Mazibuko invests Marvin Gaye with charisma, while Eshan Gopal is a little bundle of dynamite as the young Michael Jackson. But we didn't see or hear enough of Stevie Wonder, played by Jordan Shaw, or indeed Charl Brown as Smokey Robinson, who figures as a leading character but doesn't get to show his musical chops as much as he should...It doesn't break any artistic boundaries, but it's energetic, colourful and there's no denying the quality of the music.
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Photo Credit: Alastair Muir