REVIEW: Motown ★★★ – Shaftesbury Theatre

“…amazing songs but the plot is indecisive and therefore insubstantial.”


West End Theatre Guide London


Motown is a jukebox musical by Berry Gordy, which is based on his autobiography ‘To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown’.  Gordy founded the Motown record label on 12th January 1959, and, in doing so, defined the sound of the decade and gave life to some of the most loved and famed songs of all time.   This show is the story of Gordy’s Motown record label and its music, his professional relationships with some of Motown’s most famous artists, as well as his personal one with Diana Ross.  Gordy himself wrote the musical and it features over 40 classic Motown songs.

The show begins with a stubborn Berry Gordy resisting attempts to persuade him to attend the 25th anniversary concert of the formation of Motown, and then a flashback takes us on a rollercoaster ride through the story of Motown: through starting up, signing acts, finding that hit song, struggles to battle the label of “race music” and segregation, hostile takeovers, abandonment and relationship jeopardy.

Motown is packed from start to finish with amazing songs, including: ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’, ‘Stop! In The Name Of Love’, ‘Do You Love Me?’, ‘ABC’, ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’, ‘Get Ready’, and ‘My Girl’, to name a few.  However, with over 40 songs, these songs are only snippets, unfortunately leaving some of the most iconic and most loved songs of Motown with tiny, one minute slots.  Perhaps the less is more theory applies here and there are just too many songs crammed in.

The plot is mainly about Motown hits and the running of the record label, however, it also dips awkwardly into Berry Gordy’s personal life, for example into his personal relationship with Diana Ross.  It seems unnecessary and strange and slightly self-indulgent on the part of Berry Gordy.  The musical, for this reason, suffers from an identity crisis, not knowing whether it’s telling the story of Motown the record label or of Berry Gordy.

Berry Gordy was played by Cedric Neal (After Midnight, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess) who was fantastic in the part, acting as the orchestrator of the Motown machine.  Charl Brown (Motown (Broadway), Hair, Jersey Boys) played Smokey Robinson, who was brilliant in the role, singing the classic ‘Shop Around’ with The Miracles.  Diana Ross was played by Lucy St Louis (Beautiful, The Book of Mormon) who was spectacular, giving a standout performance of ‘Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)’.

Overall, Motown is full of amazing songs but the plot is indecisive and therefore insubstantial.  Trying to tell over 25 years of history in two and a half hours is very, very challenging if not completely impossible.  Nevertheless, it is a very touching story and is a celebration of the sound that took the world by storm.

Motown is showing at the Shaftesbury Theatre and is currently booking until 24th February 2018 (to book tickets, click here).  For more information on your visit to the Shaftesbury Theatre, read our guide.