In celebration of the 60th anniversary of the creation of not only a record label, but a whole musical genre which inspired a generation (and countless others that have followed), Berry Gordy’s Tony Award-winning production, Motown The Musical, has left its home in the West End and embarked upon a tour of theatres across the UK – igniting the stage at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal in a feast of showbiz sparkle, colour and infectious music when it opened its residence this week.
Motown The Musical tells the story of Berry Gordy’s world-famous Motown record label – set up in a converted house in the suburbs of Detroit, with just $800 borrowed from his family – which gave rise to some of the biggest stars the music industry has known, including The Jackson 5, Diana Ross and The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, and Marvin Gaye.
With music and lyrics taken straight from the Motown catalogue, we knew we were in for a cracking night out – and with Charles Randolph-Wright’s production also featuring a live orchestra, the music was brought to life in breathtaking fashion. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough rubbed shoulders with I Heard It through the Grapevine, power pop-ballad Stop! In The Name Of Love seamlessly made way for Dancing In The Street, and My Guy was duly answered by My Girl. Everyone in the audience could be seen tapping hands and feet, nodding their heads and struggling to resist the overwhelming urge to sing along (an endeavour which was doomed to failure).
Based on the book written by Berry Gordy himself, Motown the Musical charted his spectacular rise from boy-dreamer to one of the most influential figures in the global music industry. Edward Baruwa (of Les Misérables and Sister Act fame) was compelling in the lead role of Berry: his voice capturing a combination of poignancy and power to give authenticity to the emotion of the music, and encapsulating the mogul’s irresistible, often ruthless passion for his craft.
Karis Anderson, who was formerly in the pop band Stooshe, shone as Diana Ross – playful, powerful, stubborn and seductive, with vocals that seemed to deliberately grow in strength as the performance went on, so that her finale – while clad in all the classically diva-esque frills, sequins, crimped hair and mountains of material we now associate with Diana – was a powerhouse performance worthy of the superstar herself.
Two other standout performances it would be criminal to neglect came from Nathan Lewis (a former finalist on ITV’s The X Factor) – who effortlessly captured Smokey Robinson in all his endlessly optimistic, zealous and silky smooth-voiced glory – and Shak Gabbidon-Williams (The Lion King, Hairspray), who gave arguably the most truthful performance as the socially-preoccupied Marvin Gaye.
Telling the inspiring story of the man who broke barriers no-one believed could be broken, and fought against the odds to create something that became far more than a record label, Motown the Musical invited North East locals behind-the-scenes to witness the personal relationships and professional struggles which went into creating the music that changed history – continuing and succeeding, as the Motown record label has always sought to do, to get every one of its listeners moving to the same beat.
Motown The Musical is at Newcastle Theatre Royal until 22nd June. For more information, visit www.theatreroyal.co.uk