Motown the Musical is that rare beast: a jukebox musical that has heart, soul and a little bit of social politics, along with numerous numbers from the Motown back catalogue.
It is basically the story of the Motown label, told in flashback by its creator Berry Gordy on the day of its 25th anniversary concert.
The conceit allows the show to open and close with an explosion of Motown classics, delivered with maximum power. In between, the balance of the show’s 63 songs are used both to illustrate the plot – hints of Heard It Through the Grapevine are played as rumours of Diana Ross’ split from the Supremes circulate – and as backdrop to the evolution of the label, its place in American culture and its slow, latterly painful, decline.
The focus is, inevitably, in Gordy. In this touring production Edward Baruwa displays both the acting and musical chops to carry the role off with conviction, creating a strong sense of Gordy’s drive and somewhat autocratic manner.
Karis Anderson’s Diana Ross – who was his partner for a while – is more than impersonation – she conveys her journey from pushy teenager to global star.
There is a real slickness to David Korins’ sliding set, lit by Natasha Katz with projections by Daniel Brodies, which (with invaluable help from Emilio Sosa’s costumes) helps indicate the passing of time through the 1960s and early 70s.
Strong performances from Nathan Lewis (Smokey Robinson) and Shak Gabbidon-Williams (Marvin Gaye) round out an always vibrant and athletic ensemble cast, who ensure the musical and dance element are equally slick.