Any wedding DJ will tell you that when they want everyone on the dance floor they whack on a bit of Motown. This old adage was once again proved to be true when Motown the Musical hit the Regent Theatre this week. The packed audience was on its feet long before the thunderous climax and much- deserved ovation.
The Broadway and West End smash hit has rolled into town for a two-week run to tell the tale of the legendary record label’s founder Berry Gordy. The story of how he was inspired to make a name for himself after listening to commentary on Joe Louis’ fights and carries us along his roller-coaster ride from rags to riches and almost back again. The story is told through small clips of dialogue that are cleverly linked in to appropriately selected Motown lyrics – with more than fifty hits crammed into a hugely-entertaining show.
This story of how a black entrepreneur made his way through the racial tension of America in the 1960’s deserves a more dramatic staging than this musical but there is enough detail in the dialogue to both entertain and inform the audience. The scene at a concert being staged in the Deep South was a particular case. Two white police officers begin by referring to the performers by “the n word” but eventually can’t resist the infectious beat of the music. Alongside the tsunami-like growth of the music side of the industry Motown also relates the developing romance between Gordy and his main female star Diana Ross.
As with the rise and fall of his recording empire the audience is led through the ups and downs of romance that had profound effects on the rest of Gordy’s business.
The part of Gordy is normally played by Edward Baruwa but on the press night it was understudy Cordell Mosteller who took centre stage. Hats off to Cordell because he played the part to perfection and the greatest compliment that could be paid to him is that few in the audience could have guessed that he was not the original star. His timing was on point, he had a rapport with the audience and the required chemistry with his co-star. Cordell also had a voice to die for.
His beautifully-staged duet with Diana Ross (Karis Anderson of Stooshe fame) as they sealed their love affair in Paris and a poignant rendition of Can I Close the Door as he reflected on his life were particular highlights. There were entertaining performances from Nathan Lewis (Smokey Robinson) and Shak Gabbidon-Williams (Marvin Gaye) and vibrant performances from the ensemble who played multiple parts. However, the true star of the show was Karis Anderson who played the part of Diana Ross with beautiful precision.
She was a commanding presence on stage and I am sure that the audience members who joined her on stage to accompany her on Reach Out and Touch could not have been more thrilled if it had been the original Diana Ross. Karis truly ensured that the audience enjoyed her performance. This is a real star in the making.
With excellent choreography, simple but effective stage design and a great house band the audience was transported back to the Swinging Sixties and just lapped up the atmosphere. Berry Gordy stated that he wanted to make black music for all colours. This aim was achieved and, on the evidence of the press night, he also made music for all ages as he got all from nine to ninety (and beyond) swaying, clapping and cheering throughout.
The Regent’s production had been eagerly awaited for some time and this performance more than lived up to the show’s reputation. Miss it at your peril. The show has a running time of approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes and runs until Saturday June 1st.
Tickets are available from ATGTickets.com/Stoke or 0844 871 7649