The Tamla Motown back-catalogue is an essential part of the history of popular music.
Although Tamla Motown is a well-known music label, its story has often been overshadowed by some of the biggest music stars that recorded for it such as Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and Marvin Gaye.
Motown The Musical, which began its run at Wales Millennium Centre on Tuesday evening. not only shines a spotlight on the label’s music and stars from the 1960s and 70s but also the label’s founder, Berry Gordy.
Inspired by the boxer Joe Louis, a young Gordy was keen to emulate the joy his hero gave to people throughout America. Gordy’s earlycareer as a featherweight boxer is switched for that of a songwriter when penning Jackie Wilson’s late 1950s smash hit Reet Petite. Then, with just $800 borrowed from his family, Gordy sets up the Motown label with the assistance of young protégé songwriter and musician, Smokey Robinson.
Motown The Musical lets the music, wonderfully directed by Griff Johnson, tell Gordy’s story, assisted with dialogue and in places, spectacular AV backdrops adding meticulous attention to detail recreating long gone TV studios and cabaret venues.
So, as The Temptations Get Ready strikes up its familiar riff, the hits just keep on coming. Motown’s progress moves from Detroit to California in times of segregated concerts, the threat of the Ku Klux Klan, Dr Martin Luther King, the assassination of JFK and the Vietnam war.
Edward Baruwa solidifies Berry Gordy’s presence on the stage. The audience get to witness Gordy’s passion for the music he wants to share with the world but also the frustrations of running a record label and managing the stars he creates along the way. Baruwa clearly has fun bringing the role to life and performs a wonderful rendition of To Be Loved (a hit for Jackie Wilson).
Karis Anderson, shimmers and shines as Diana Ross from college girl to international superstar. Miss Anderson’s Diana Ross at first appears to be smitten with the prospect of been a recording artist (and Berry Gordy’s significant other). The wide-eyed smiles gravitate to frustration when relationships within the Supremes and later, Berry Gordy break down. Miss Anderson keeps all these emotions in check while presenting a convincing portrayal. My personal highlight was watching the magic kick in, when as The Supreme, Miss Anderson along with Natalia Brown and Olivia Hibbert perform Where Did Our Love Go? Other classic Supremes hits such as Stop (In The Name of Love) and The Happening follow. The heart and soul of Motown has truly arrived on Wales Millennium Centre’s stage.
The ensemble cast work hard and keep the show going, taking on numerous roles and recreating music acts such as Martha & The Vandellas and The Temptations with pitch perfect songs and slick dance moves. The glamour of showbiz is not the ensembles only highlights. Their performance of Edwin Starr’s hit War in the form of a protest against events in Vietnam and the subsequent assassination of Dr Martin Luther King take the audience to a moving point in history, lead by Shak Gabbidon-Williams as Marvin Gaye on What’s Going On.
Notable also are the recurring roles of Smokey Robinson (Nathan Lewis), Stevie Wonder (Daniel Haswell) and a segment featuring The Jackson Five’s early hits ABC and I Want You Back, all warmly received by the audience. There was more audience participation too, when Karis Anderson as Diana Ross performed Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand).
Magical, mesmerising and magnificent, Motown The Musical is one of the most memorable hit inspired musicals to take to the stage – don’t miss it! It runs at Wales Millennium Centre until April 6.