Time Out says
This jukebox musical has one of greatest set-lists ever… and one of the laziest scripts
I literally can’t think of any reason beyond being a massive racist (or actually hating music) that would cause anybody to regard the output of Motown Records – aka the greatest and most culturally significant pop label in history – with anything other than rapture. So it goes without saying that ‘Motown the Musical’ is unimpeachable from a music perspective.
Can a show be musically unimpeachable and also not very good? Yes. Yes it can.
Ironically this Broadway import’s Achilles heel starts with the embarrassment of riches that is its set list. It packs in about 60 songs – most musicals average less than half that – which is such a vast number that even accepting the frequent medleys, you’d think it might be wisest to dispense with a plot (a la ‘Thriller Live!’, the cheerfully story-free musical about Motown’s most famous son, Michael Jackson).
Instead it’s Motown founder Berry Gordy’s own adaptation of his autobiography, tracing the label from mad gamble, to monolithic success, to fractious implosion.
Given the author, the worry is that Charles Randolph-Wright’s production would come across as a hagiography, but to be honest there’s not even time for that. The show is effectively one enormous montage sequence in which Gordy (Cedric Neil) and his dopey sidekick Smokey Robinson (Charl Brown) spout a bit of exposition, audition a band, write a hit for them, spout a bit more exposition, audition another band, write another hit for them, etcetera etcetera. In the background the civil rights movement advances, but it’s never engaged with in any great measure. Gordy starts a relationship with Diana Ross (Lucy St Louis), who is so thinly sketched you might assume Gordy had made her up. Fascinating, iconic musicians – Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Michael frickin’ Jackson – wander on, sing a song, then wander off.
The only real character is Neal’s surprisingly flawed – nervy, paranoid (albeit unquestionably a genius) – Berry. But with nobody three-dimensional to spark off, we learn less about him that we should.
The simple fact is that other jukebox musicals set in a similar era – ‘Jersey Boys’, ‘Beautiful’ – do the storytelling thing a lot better. ‘Motown’ has more hits and better hits than both those shows combined. But while Gordy can write music with soul, he doesn’t seem to be able to do the same with his own story.
Users say (44)
Average User Rating
3.5 / 5
- 5 star:8
- 4 star:13
- 3 star:15
- 2 star:7
- 1 star:1
Absolutely loved it, to the point of having my friends asking me to stop signing out loud.
It’s very interesting to see the story of one of the most important music companies in history, that shaped, not only the Black music and culture, but Music itself.
What a night out!!
Loved the bulk karaoke and dancing at the end :)
Yes, it was a little slow in some parts but overall I thought it was a good night out, particularly if you LOVE hearing the Motown tunes like me. Brought back some really happy memories and it looked like it was the same for everyone else in the audience too.
If you have have some lovely memories of Motown classics like the Jackson Fives, The Supremes, Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye you will really enjoy it. If you haven't heard of these guys you probably won't LOL
An excellent production with a very talented cast. The songs were such great classics and got the audience on their feet. The storyline was simplistic, yet creative and told the story of the rise of the Motown label, although I felt though the show concentrated more on the music than the storyline itself. Overall, a fun, feel good experience!
Whilst the music was beautiful, I struggled with the story telling as thought it lacked something special. Vocals were at times incredible but as a regular theatre goer, not the most earth shattering voices as an overall cast. Worth a watch if a fan of the music though.
Just go see this production! The energy is buzzing & you'll know pretty much every song. This slick & stylish musical charts the Motown story & I never realised the impact these incredible artists had in breaking down racial segregation & positively impacting on a dark chapter in US history. The cast are universally fantastic but special mention for Diana Ross & the young Michael Jackson. This is a superior show that will leave you dancing in the street.. :)
Music was great, the story was slow, and the show was about 15 minutes too long for me. The highlight was the kid that played Michael Jackson, so it was definitely worth staying past the interval, but I did find myself wondering if I'd be able to sneak out after that without too much tutting. I didn't manage it, and had to stay until the bitter end.
Excellent show from start to finish. All the acts were great singers and performers and really got the audience involved. The scope of the performance did mean that it was difficult to engage and connect with the characters however.
The TOL reviewer was either drunk or high or having a bad day or having unrealistic expectations of life or all of the above when when they saw this show. I'd put Motown in the 'crowd pleaser' category. It's a ton of fun! Last night the audience couldn't hold themselves back from singing along throughout the show (even causing one performer to break momentarily when they beat him to his next line - golden!). Cedric Neal's vocals as Berry Gordy is goosebump-worthy in several numbers. The kid playing MJ is a total showstopper too! With a run-time over 2 1/2 hours, the audience was left wanting more. Had a hard week? Want a fun night out? Go see Motown.
SO WHERE WERE THE 4 TOPS? Other than at the start with a medley with the Temptations, there was nothing else that I can remember. A great disappointment if you are a fan of the Tops, which I am. To me they had more hits & were more successful than the Temptations, especially keeping their original line up right until the end. Only Abdul (The Duke) is alive.
I didn't like the 'mish mash' of songs started then end before it should, another one starts from another singer. I felt the Diana Ross voice was 'too shrilly' & grates, unlike the real Diana's who has a soft, smooth voice. The guy she picked to sing in the audience had a great voice. It's hard to know if he was 'a plant'? Fortunately we didn't have sing-along & happy clappy during the show.
I felt Berry Gordy, Temptations, Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye & Smokey Robinson were very good. Smokey even looked a bit like the real thing! Good voices, especially Berry who isn't known for his singing. However I was disappointed Stevie Wonder was right at the end of the show with 2 songs before we had the finale. So many familiar Motown tunes were missing. Who is Teena Marie? She certainly isn't a Motown name I've ever heard of, as well as some songs I've not heard before from Motown. Should have had more 4 Tops instead & familiar tunes like 'Reach out' or 'Tracks of my tears' as well as other Motown hits.
So as a Motown fan I'm really 50/50.
There's two ways to judge this show. On the merit of the music and the performers, it's wonderful - and the guy who played Berry Gordy was out of this world. Like, he's seriously good; I haven't heard chops like his in a long time. But if we're looking at the credibility of the story...well, Berry was a songwriter, not a singer, and though this show was based on his autobiography, it was felt too narcissistic and convoluted in places to be taken seriously. So if you know much about the Motown story, this is a pretty hard pill to swallow. Just wash it down with a cold glass of indifference, and you'll be fine.
It is a great show with a fantastic cast!
The atmosphere is so positive and joyful that I can only highly recommend it to everyone.
The clue is in the title - Musical.
As a play, it's thin, clumsy, unconvincing nonsense: a bland, confused hagiography of Motown founder Berry Gordy.
As a musical, it's a heartwarming, foot-tapping, singalong triumph. The performances are outstanding, including the brilliant band. Cedric Neal's Gordy guides us commandingly through the jam-packed repertoire, a juke box on steroids. And, to be honest, what matters more than the music? Over he last decades I've been to so many commercial hit musicals where I struggle to remember more than one mediocre song. The ability to combine an inspiring story with memorable, heart-stopping music was lost after West Side Story, Porgy & Bess and My Fair Lady. The tat that was Rice Webber never reached the foothills of those mountainous achievements.
So let's just look for the music and unashamedly wallow in the nostalgia and glory. That's all Motown - The Musical promises and delivers In full.
I confess that I only ever owned two Motown (Tamla Motown in the UK) records, both by Steve Wonder. Motown, I thought, was never really my music. Yet it was. To my surprise I knew and was moved by every song. I was swept up by the fire and energy of what had been the musical backdrop to my childhood and youth. These were - are - excellent songs. Within minutes I was foot-tapping and clapping along to the driving music as enthusiastically as the most committed Motown fan.
It is an unmissable, fabulous night out.
Thank you Time Out I learnt about this show reading you and I found it is such a great performance ! And the cultural and historical context is well presented
The day after i was listening all these old standards
I will recommend this show to all my friends. I must confess I am 51 but my son 10 years old loved it also -
A thoroughly enjoyable evening.
I watched it in preview so there are a few things that need to be ironed out and I thought the first 15 minutes were a bit shaky. It was almost as if they hadn't warmed their voices, plus timing was out for the Four Tops.
That said, it definitely grew on me.
The story line is weak but the audience around us were loving the Motown jukebox and they certainly rattle through the hits. Just pray that you don't sit next to a group of people who feel they have to prove that they're true Motown Fans and sing through the whole performance - We had it in stereo pretty much the entire way through.
As a pure Jukebox musical it's no Jersey Boys and I think that's where the issue with it for me and not giving it a stronger review. It's like they bombard you with the hits and no story line. It's only after around 30 minutes do they really try to sell you in to the Motown story. It's kind of the wrong way around and they don't combine the story well enough with the music.
Still I had a good time and that's what Jukebox musicals are about right?
Saw the show on 11th February. Very disappointing. Cheap unimaginative sets and a disjointed production with very variable standard of singing. These are big songs well known and if you are going to recreate them it has to be perfect. It wasn't, neither was the "synchronised" dancing that the Four Tops and Temptations were known for. The guy playing Stevie Wonder came on with an outfit two sizes too big and couldn't sing....and this was the finale.
Best performance was by "Marvin Gaye". Exceptionally moving version of What's Going On.