Review: Motown the Musical, Bristol Hippodrome
Updated: Jan 24, 2019
It's not every Friday night in Bristol that you can listen to the many hits of music legends such as Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye, to name but a few, in the space of just two and a half hours.
Motown the Musical crams an incredible 50 hits into that time, as it looks back over the life of Motown founder Berry Gordy, from borrowing $800 from his family to start Tamla records in 1959, and then creating the famous Motown label just a year later.
The show is based on Berry Gordy’s autobiography To Be Loved: the Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown, and Edward Baruwa does an excellent job of playing the music mogul. His powerful vocals are one of the highlights of the show, with some truly outstanding solo performances.
Karis Anderson (formally of pop band Stooshe) has the unenviable job of living up to the standards of Diana Ross, but she delivers an accomplished and memorable performance as we watch Diana transform from hopeful teenager to seasoned performer before our very eyes. And I, along with the entire audience, was totally mesmerised as Baruwa and Anderson sang a perfect duet together in the first half of the show.
Other notable performances are from Nathan Lewis as the talented 'soul of Motown' and Gordy's closest friend Smokey Robinson, and Shak Gabbidon-William playing a passionate and often emotional Marvin Gaye. However, possibly the biggest cheer of the evening was reserved for Yami Mirazi, whose portrayal of a young Michael Jackson was equal parts cute and confident.
When he started out as a songwriter, Gordy apparently says all he wanted "was to make some money, make some music and get some girls". With the first two of those ambitions ticked off before the interval, much of the second half of the production is based around his relationship with Diana, as they take the leap from being solely professional to mixing business with pleasure.
This show really is all about the music though, so although we get some glimpses into their ultimately doomed relationship, nothing is examined in too much detail, and it sometimes felt to me as if the dialogue was just a filler whilst the audience waited for the next incredible song.
The set design is minimal but the use of bright bold colours, and clever projections transports the audience back to each relevant decade with ease. There are nods to the political backdrop which set the scene for the music, but the overall mood is one of celebration, and the excellently choreographed ensemble cast certainly add to the party feel, never putting a foot out of place.
Verdict: Motown the Musical is a fun showcase packed full of the record label's greatest hits. With top quality performances and plenty of nostalgia, this jukebox style show will have you dancing in the street on your way home.
It runs until February 2nd at the Bristol Hippodrome.
Disclaimer: I was offered two complimentary tickets to Motown the Musical in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are my own. Photo credits: Tristram Kenton.