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Review: Motown the Musical ***

Michael Cox reviews a production that should be a winner but is 'a lost opportunity'.

The concept behind Motown The Musical should be a winner: a theatrical retelling of the life of producer and writer Berry Gordy expressed through the songs that made him famous. And there is a thrill of anticipation as each of those songs jump from the stage, especially as many of the numbers are performed with vibrancy.

Yet for a story that is so colourful, for a history that is so rich and for a musical legacy that is so poignant, what is presented onstage is a dramaturgical disaster.

Gordy’s life and legacy is worthy of theatrical investigation, one that can honour, delve into and question the specifics of what happened and why. Going by where Gordy was placed, such a story could not only richly explore the American Dream but also give eyewitness accounts to some of the most important historic events of the last few decades.

What the musical instead provides are shallow vignettes that give excuses for the next song—many of which are only performed partially. The result then is a production that works best as a reminder of Motown’s awesome legacy rather than the glorious celebration it should be.

And yet, there are moments within the production when the songs and the main players in the company’s history are given just enough space and time to allow the spirit of Motown to transfix the audience. The production also has good production values and a strong, energetic ensemble, meaning everything looks and feels sharp.

In the end, Motown the Musicalis a lost opportunity. It isn’t bad—how can it be with performances from this brilliant canon of songs—but it lacks purpose or any sense of immediacy.

Motown the Musical is at Edinburgh Playhouse until December 8th before continuing its UK tour.

Tags: theatre music

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