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  • Review by john Murray

A Motown review

All soul music fans will be familiar with the Tamla Motown label as this was the marque of quality. Starting out in Detroit Michigan the whole project was from Berry Gordy with a borrowed $800 and a vision to produce a sound that became Motown. His ‘hands on’ approach was evident in the artists, musicians, writers and music releases that shaped America. He had been a featherweight boxer yet he inspired the talent of Stevie Wonder, The Jackson Five, Marvin Gaye and particularly Diana Ross. Assembling a ‘house band’ of professionals they created the Motown Sound and convinced US radio to play black artists which they did resulting in a string of hits. They did become the sound of young America. How this translates to the stage could be quite a challenge but Berry Gordy himself collaborated in the writing which was based on his own memoirs.

After Broadway and West End success the UK tour had to be of a high standard both in design and in the casting as the US tour grossed $20million in just sixteen weeks. The fast moving colourful set moved from the Detroit office to concert halls and to the streets. Using backdrop and projection we immediately were involved in the atmosphere from Martin Luther King & Walter Cronkite broadcasts to images of the times and finally to actual footage of the Motown 25th Anniversary show which closes the show. Edward Baruwa as Gordy has his struggles with staff, contracts and under pressure to sell his assets to the majors who are cherry picking his roster with unbelievable offers. These are critical moments in the show as is the decision to move the company to Los Angeles and gambling and borrowing to ensure Diana Ross could transform into a movie star.

Along the way we can hear the great music condensed into workable bites or disguised in medleys. The Jackson 5 are auditioned then appear with their first three hits complete with the dance moves that won our hearts and lifted the Edinburgh audience to a higher level. Synchronised choreography is a key factor when we see the Four Tops and Temptations but not needed in the cameos where the sound and image is enough to show Rick James, Mary Wells or even Teena Marie. Karis Anderson as Diana Ross has a huge part as she developed from no hits-Supremes to Superstar. Nathan Lewis as Smokie Robinson appears throughout too as a Gordy writer and confidant and we see Marvin Gaye played by Shak Gabbidon-Williams develop into a social commentator against the wishes of his boss.

There are over 50 Motown hits in the show and big numbers like Dancing In The Streets and Ain’t No Mountain High Enough are big moments and with a massive cast of talent and big sound from the 11 piece band led enthusiastically by Griff Johnson whose animations shows he clearly loves his role. We all did in fact and a worthy standing ovation resulted as the whole ensemble was on stage for the Anniversary reunion.

Edinburgh Playhouse till Dec 8

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