The Alexandra Theatre was relaunched after it’s refurbishment in Birmingham last night with the press and gala performance of Motown the Musical. There was no better way to celebrate the relaunch – this life story of Berry Gordy and his legendary Detroit record label is simply electric, with fabulous performances and iconic songs that have truly stood the test of time.
Growing up in Detroit, Berry Gordy had a dream. He wanted to be Joe Louis, the world champion boxer, but his career path lay elsewhere, in music. He wrote hits for Jackie Wilson, but disillusioned with his pay and conditions, he set up Motown records, with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles as his first star act. Stardom soon followed, the rostrum of stars created by Motown was incredible, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5 and, of course, The Supremes, led by the beautiful Diana Ross. But where there’s success there is often discord, and soon the major record companies were circling, picking off the big Motown artists with multi million dollar contracts, and taking the song writing team Holland-Dozier-holland, the team behind The Supremes. Gordy is furthered troubled by his personal relationship with Diana Ross, his drive to make her the biggest artist in the World being at the expense of other artists, not least the other Supremes.
From its high energy, high octane opening, a musical clash between The Temptations and The Four Tops, Motown the Musical grabs the audience by the throat and never let’s go. Edward Baruwa is just incredible as Berry, a magnificent singer and stage presence who gives a truly powerful performance and makes Gordy a sympathetic, multi faceted character, driven by loyal, harsh but with a sense of humour. He is more than matched by the wonderful Katie Anderson as the inimitable Diana Ross. Her performance is stunning, particularly in the showstopping ‘Reach out and touch which is performed concert style. When Katie is on the stage, it is hard to take your eyes off her.
Rounding out the key characters are Nathan Lewis as Smokey Robinson, just lovely, playing the role almost like Gordy’s conscience and performing the very first Motown hit, ‘Shop Around. Shak Gabbidon-Williams was a talented but troubled Marvin Gaye, heart breaking in his rendition of a beautiful, abmnd desperate ‘Mercy, mercy me. Gaye’s struggles and growing social awareness are a brilliant contrast to the growing Hollywood dazzle of Diana Ross.
The brilliance of Motown the Musical is the different strands and storylines that it brings together with ease. Huge musical numbers like ‘War’ and the brilliant ‘Ball of Confusion’ are placed on the context of the 1960s, the assassinations, riots, Vietnam War and Civil Rights movements. The Motown tour shows the racism faced by both performers and audiences in segregated Alabama, with gun toting cops on stage to stop any mixing of the crowd. These scenes are hard hitting and truly powerful.
But there is also a tender love story at the heart of Motown the Musical, and this gives us some of the most wonderful moments, particularly the sublime duet on ‘You’re all I need to get by.’ I got chills, this was so beautiful.
Motown the Musical is a modern day classic, filled with music that makes your heart soar, and a story that dress you in instantly. A must see show.
Motown the Musical
New Alexandra Theatre Until Saturday 3rd November
Click here for Ticket Information.