Posts Tagged ‘Berry Gordy’

Motown wasn’t a huge part of the soundtrack of my youth; I was rather preoccupied with British groups like The Beatles, The Kinks, The Hollies and The Small Faces. I did listen to and enjoy much of it at the time, but I think I appreciated it more later, looking back. This ‘juke-box musical’ showcases an extraordinary back catalogue whilst telling the story of the man behind it all – Berry Gordy.

It’s framed by the 1983 25th anniversary concert, flashing back to a very young Gordy watching Joe Louis win the boxing heavyweight crown, then jumping forward to his initial song writing in Detroit and chronologically onwards from there back to the anniversary concert. I was surprised by how much I learnt about him and the label’s many stars, including the acrimonious dispute with the song writing team of Holland Dozier Holland and Gordy’s relationship with Diana Ross. I very much liked how they wove in social history such as the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King and segregation in the deep south, a chilling scene with on-stage police barking instructions to the audience.

It proceeds at such a pace you struggle to catch your breath, sometimes so fast that the narrative seemed rushed and you got part of a song when you’d have liked it all. The period was awash with brightly coloured clothes and furnishings and these are replicated in a design which is a riot of colour, perhaps seeming a bit tacky to today’s eye! The scene changes are swift and slick, the period choreography is spot on and the band sounds terrific. The music is the star, as it should be. 

There was a real party atmosphere in the theatre, perhaps a bit too noisy for me, with more weak-bladdered people coming and going than I’ve ever seen before! I didn’t think it was as good as those other three biographical juke-box musicals running in the West End – Jersey Boys, Sunny Afternoon and Beautiful – but it was an interesting story with a soundtrack to die for.

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