Tuesday March 20, 2018 @ Shaftesbury Theatre
Starring Jay Perry, Natalie Kassanga, David Albury
If I were to start this review off with a metaphor I might use the phrase ‘sour milk’ and then make something clever out of that. So now the tone is set for the rest of this, let’s get to it.
I for one hate giving negative reviews just because I like to find something positive in every show I see, and generally I do love everything I see, but sometimes there are exceptions. On Tuesday night, after two years of not seeing it – not on purpose, I just never got around to it – I finally saw Motown the Musical. Now Motown, as you can guess, is a jukebox musical and follows the life of Berry Gordy, the founder of the Motown label that started the music movement we all know and love. And it’s no surprise, the love was there on Tuesday night. The main reason this show is still going is not because of the story, it’s because people recognise the songs and the brand, you know what you are getting, and for some theatregoers that might just be enough, but not for me.
The story was weak, in that there was not much to tell. I think it was a missed opportunity in the way it was told and presented, they could have gone the Beautiful/Carole King way, and told the story in a truthful human way, that makes us feel for the people whose lives we see unfolding, instead we get clichés and rushed plot points that we’ve all seen before. And the whole oppression of race topic was done much better with previous Shaftesbury Theatre resident Memphis – an original musical that is truly one the best shows I’ve ever seen. If you don’t know this show, you need it in your life, trust me.
The set was also very disappointing. Sometimes we are forced to look at outlines and stencils that suggest the place we are in and a singular desk as opposed to anything remotely interesting. Not to mention the projectors screens, which act as a smart cop-out. It looked more like a Sell a Door touring production than what you would expect from the West End. Not to bash Sell a Door in anyway, I’ve seen a couple of their tours and they do amazing work, but it’s no secret that the budgets are more often a lot less and it works for what they do, but for a big West End show, I just expected more.
It makes me sad to play the negative card on this one because I really wanted to like it, so let’s talk some positives. The cast were fantastic. Although often let down my poor direction, they did their upmost to energise a boring Tuesday night audience which did work eventually at curtain call. The vocals were the best part of the show, each lead and ensemble member (including a scene-stealing Young Michael Jackson) sang their heart out and that was great.
And of course, the main element I cannot fault is the music. We go in knowing we are going to love it, classics such as ‘ABC,’ ‘Dancing in the Streets,’ and ‘My Girl’ proved especially popular and for good reason, Motown music still holds up, which is why this show and other Motown-related tribute shows that endlessly continue to tour the country bring in the big bucks; people are drawn to it. An arguably inexperienced theatregoer does not want to take a chance on a Memphis, when they could go and hear songs they’ve heard a million times. It’s tough and makes me sad, but it sells.
So I guess my lesson would be to take a chance on the original and the brilliant, but if you’re just after something to do on a night out, then maybe this is the show for you. But for me, this is a musical well past it’s sell-by date.