There’s still time to just catch the New Theatre’s Christmas Box Office musical – Motown the Musical which runs until Saturday 4th January 2020. We were gifted two tickets for the opening night gala which was the perfect way to kick off the party season.
When it comes to theatre reviews, I’m often able to get the inside scoop as I’ve a good chum who works in theatre marketing in the West End and she’s often my first port of call. Her immediate comments on Motown, which she saw during its original run, was that there were so many recognisable songs – a whirlwind of musical hits.
And that’s exactly what you can expect. With music and lyrics from the Motown catalogue and book by Motown founder Berry Gordy, Charles Randolph-Wright’s production features a live orchestra playing 50 Motown tracks including Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, I’ll Be There, Dancing In The Street, Stop! In The Name Of Love, My Girl, I Heard It through the Grapevine and tells the story behind the classic hits.
Berry Gordy, played by understudy Cordell Mosteller in the role on opening night, founded the Motown label in 1959 and the production tells the story of how with just $800 borrowed from his family he went from a 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.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of Motown. The musical is set against the backdrop of the iconic 25th anniversary concert which saw iconic acts return to celebrate Berry Gordy’s role in their careers.
The ensemble cast slip in and out of characters – playing the Four Tops, then the Temptations and back to Commodores. It’s a testament to their versatile and melodic voices. The lad playing young Berry, young Stevie and young Michael had some really difficult shoes to fill but did a sterling job, especially during the Jackson 5 medley.
Tom and I haven’t been to Detroit, but we did visit Sun Records during our trip to Memphis. Standing in the recording rooms where Elvis and Roy Orbinson created number one hits, certainly gave us a greater appreciation of the music (without wanting to sound like a cliche). It was also eye-opening seeing the challenges that artists faced, overcoming prejudices and poverty.
Segregation and racism are even more prevalent in the story of Motown, but I felt that we saw a more sanitised version of this, but perhaps that is more appropriate for a musical’s family audience. Similarly, from what I’ve read about Berry Gordy, who could be hard-nosed and encouraged keen competition between his acts, Cordell’s Berry was less mean-spirited.
The cast for the UK and Ireland tour includes Edward Baruwa who plays the leading role of ‘Berry Gordy’, Karis Anderson as ‘Diana Ross’, Nathan Lewis as ‘Smokey Robinson’ and Shak Gabbidon-Williams as ‘Marvin Gaye’.
Edward Baruwa’s previous credits include the West End productions of “Motown the Musical” at The Shaftesbury Theatre, “Les Misérables” at the Queen’s Theatre, “Five Guys Named Moe” at the Marble Arch Theatre and the UK Tour of “Sister Act”. Karis Anderson is best known as being one third of pop band ‘Stooshe’ who celebrated a top five single ‘Black Heart’ in 2012 for which they received a nomination for Best British Single at the 2013 Brit Awards.
Nathan Lewis was a finalist on ITV’s The X Factor in 2016 as part of boyband ‘Five After Midnight’. Nathan makes his stage debut as ‘Smokey Robinson’. Shak Gabbidon-William’s previous credits include ‘Young Simba’ in “The Lion King” in the West End and most recently starred as ‘Seaweed’ in the UK tour of “Hairspray”.
The ensemble includes, Dayo Adeoye, Scott Armstrong, Simeon Beckett, Natalia Brown, Ethan Davis, Andrew Dillon, Akeem Ellis-Hyman, Christopher Gopaul, Daniel Haswell, Olivia Hibbert, Karis Jack, Michael Jeremiah, Amana Jones, Abz Kareem, Kane Matthews, DeeArna McClean, Matt Mills, Cordell Mosteller, Nicole Nyarambi, Spencer O’Brien, Perry O’Dea, Alex Okoampa, Reece Richards and Emma Robotham-Hunt.
Tickets can be purchased from the New Theatre box office on George Street, by ringing 0844 871 3020 or by visiting our website at www.atgtickets.com/oxford (phone and internet bookings subject to booking/transaction fee. Calls are charged at 7p per minute, plus your phone company’s access charge.).