Last night my boyfriend and I attended the opening night of MOTOWN THE MUSICAL at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver. We were looking forward to this show because of the number of amazing hit songs and rave reviews, and it did not disappoint!
The show centers around Berry Gordy, played by Kenneth Mosley, and his journey to become a top music industry icon. From a child in Detroit to a teenage song writer, the story follows his career and relationships that created Motown, named after Motor City Detroit, which feels like a town, the iconic record label. With a focus on African American artists and a clever knowledge of the industry, Gordy has multiple labels to push multiple artists such as The Supremes, including Diana Ross, Smoke Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and eventually the Jackson 5. The show does an excellent job of showcasing the numerous hits the label had while highlighting the extreme conflict and racial issues at that time. From Martin Luther King and racialized riots, to a shooting that almost shut down a concert, the performances capture the turmoil of the time and how this label of mostly African American artists navigated the difficult times. With a focus on the relationships formed, the play entices the audience through song and emotion on a journey filled with entertaining song and dance.
What was interesting was exploring the deeper relationships he had with the artists and the great sense of family among them. From his romantic relationship with Diana Ross to his sister’s husband, Marvin Gaye, the artists were all intertwined like family. And like any family, there comes conflict; as time goes on, sprinkled with song hit after song hit, the artists start to leave Gordy for other labels that offer more money and bigger contracts. At one point, the law suits and scandal seem to reach an all time high and we flash back forward to 1983, the 25th anniversary legacy show that Gordy refuses to attend because of strained relationships over the years. There is an amazing solo and reflection on his career and relationships before the finale brings everyone back together for song and celebration.
The vocals were incredible over all with a few rough moments at the start that were quickly rectified. The performers who played the Supremes had perfect harmonization and a standout performance was undoubtedly the young Michael Jackson, played by Chase Phillips (who shares the role with Kai Calhoun) who completely embraced his character from vocals to dance moves.
Featuring so many favourites including “My Girl”, “ABC”, “Do you Love Me”, PLease, Mr. Postman”, “Super Freak”, “Brick House”, “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me”, “My Guy”, “Cruisin'” and many many more (over sixty hits!) It was tough not to toe tap and shimmy in my seat!
A favourite moment was when Diana Ross, played perfectly by Trenyce, came out into the crowd to make it interactive. Two audience members joined her to chat and sing “Reach Out and Touch” followed by the entire audience singing along while holding hands and swaying them in the air. Magical.
Another incredible part of this show was the visuals and use of digital screen and staging. I loved seeing the screens show the map movement while they were on the road, or the countdown rise as songs moved up the charts. I really appreciated the use of lights and visuals to enhance the story spanning over nearly fifty years.
From the music integration (60 plus hits included in the show) to the amazing choreography and costumes, Motown is not a show you want to miss! Luckily it is playing until February 11, 2018 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre!