Kevin McCallum, Doug Morris, Adam Spiegel & Berry Gordy
Opera House, Manchester
26 February 2019 - 23 March 2019, 2 hr 45min with interval
The giant M that adorns the stage curtain for this Motown show might just as well stand for Manchester, given the ecstatic reception it receives here.
The city already enjoys a special place at the heart of soul music history as it’s 54 years since the Tamla Motown record label launched in Europe with a star-studded concert at Manchester Odeon, featuring the Supremes, Martha and The Vandellas, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, and Stevie Wonder.
Avatars of each of them, and many more big names besides, appear in this music-soaked story of how the label’s founder, songwriter and impresario Berry Gordy created Motown. He’s a co-producer, and author of the book on which it is based, and it’s a frank portrayal of the ups and downs he endured. In this show he also gets a major singing role, climaxing in Edward Baruwa’s powerhouse rendition of Gordy’s own song Can I Close The Door.
With more than 60 classic songs to accommodate, many are shoe-horned around the story in the first act, but even just a few bars here are enough to create a nostalgic tingle. Only a short burst of Junior Walker and the All Stars might seem criminally insane to some, but then others – like Rick James and Teena Marie? – you might have to look up.
The pace eases in the second act, with showcases that open out for the music of the likes of the Jackson 5, Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder.
Meantime there’s a lot of story to impart, not least the part music played in raising black consciousness through the latter half of the last century. A seamless digital stage design colours in the show’s timeline, aided by what must be truckloads of wigs and costumes for a huge cast.
This is a show sensational enough to match its music. The audience isn't just eating out of its hand here, but is actively involved. Tina from Whitefield, alone, will never forget the night she duetted live on stage with ‘Diana Ross’!
Motown the Musical is in Manchester until March 23, and visits Blackpool in the summer.