With what must be a greater number of established hit songs than anything else in the West End – ever – the producers of Motown the Musical must have suspected they were onto a sure thing when they put this show together. Part of its success, though, must be down to the fact that this is more than just a slick concert of Motown’s greatest hits, although it is that too. Amongst all the well-known tunes is the story of Motown’s founder Berry Gordy, along with passing nods to some of the key players in his empire such as Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and the person who would become especially significant in his life – Diana Ross.
True, it’s a fairly light-touch narrative but it serves its purpose in filling in the blanks for those of us not well-versed in the history of Motown. It also gives shape to the evening and a sense of direction and purpose to the music.
At times, too, some of the songs are used to give emphasis to particular moments in the story, rather than just serving to illustrate the music that Gordy was producing at the time. OK, so it’s not at the same level of sophistication (if that’s the word) as used on Abba’s songs in Mama Mia, but it credits the audience with wanting more than just a parade of hits. All credit, too, for ending the story in a satisfying arc and not simply offering a pseudo concert for the finale as is so often the case in juke box musicals. The only ill-judged moment was in Diana Ross’s set when two audience members were persuaded to join her on stage and sing along. Definitely not the slick sophistication we expect from Motown.
The songs themselves are re-produced faithfully with energetic choreography and a pitch perfect band working its collective socks off in the pit. A word, too, in praise of the highly stylish and efficient set.
Motown the Musical is playing at the Shaftesbury theatre and booking has just been extended to October 2017.