REVIEW: Motown the Musical (Sunderland Empire) ★★★★

I arrived at Sunderland Empire expecting to see a tribute concert to the many glorious songs produced on the Motown label. However I was delighted to find that it is actually the Berry Gordy story – which might not be a dynamic name for a musical but it is a very compelling tale.

Gordy started out with a dream of wanting to be the best that he could be and a love of music. In his late 20’s he wrote Reet Petite for Jackie Wilson. Using the cash from his songwriting a loan from his family he opened Hitsville USA – that was destined to become the home of Motown.

From the very beginning there came a lifelong friendship with Smokey Robinson and, when he was in his mid 30’s, he started a relationship with a young Diana Ross – who wanted to make the biggest star in the world.

There was a veritable smorgasbord of hits and artistes all on the Motown label: The Miracles, The 4 Tops, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Mary WIlson, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five

Written by Gordy himself, the script isn’t the best but it’s the songs that tell the tale. Edward Baruwa who plays the man himself has an amazing voice and gives life to the vocals. His relationship with Diana Ross (Karis Anderson) and friendship with Smokey Robinson (Nathan Lewis) are at the heart of the show. Charting the humble beginnings, the segregation and racism, the different court cases and the coming and going of different artistes to his label, right up to the 25th anniversary of Motown – its a powerful production.

The live band lead by Griff Johnson is phenomenal, the hits come along almost straight after each other with no time to pause for breath, but yet the band plays on in sheer note perfection. After all it’s the music the audience are there for.

The scenery by David Korins is minimal, the costumes by Emilio Sosa are fabulous and Linda McKnights wigs are outstanding. Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams choreography is sublime and all under the direction of Charles Randolph- Wright

Whether you are there for the music or to find out the story behind it all, you won’t be disappointed. Motown the Musical is full of life and fabulous music. Proving beyond doubt that some tunes are classics that will never get old.

Reviewed by Susan Lindsay
Photo: Tristram Kenton

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