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Motown the Musical

Book: Berry Gordy; music & lyrics: The Legendary Motown Catalogue
Kevin McCallum, Doug Morris, Adam Spiegel & Berry Gordy
Opera House, Manchester
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The giant M that adorns the stage curtain for this Motown show might just as well stand for Manchester, given the ecstatic reception it receives here.

The city already enjoys a special place at the heart of soul music history as it’s 54 years since the Tamla Motown record label launched in Europe with a star-studded concert at Manchester Odeon, featuring the Supremes, Martha and The Vandellas, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles and Stevie Wonder.

Avatars of each of them, and many more big names besides, appear in this music-soaked story of how the label’s founder, songwriter and impresario Berry Gordy, created Motown. He’s a co-producer and author of the book on which it’s based, but it’s a frank portrayal of the ups and downs he endured. In this show, he also gets a major singing role, climaxing in Edward Baruwa’s powerhouse rendition of Gordy’s own song "Can I Close The Door".

With more than 60 classic songs to accommodate, many are shoe-horned around the story in the first act, but even just a few bars here are enough to create a nostalgic tingle. Only a short burst of Junior Walker and the All Stars might seem criminally insane to some, but then others—like Rick James and Teena Marie?—you might have to look up!

The pace eases in the second act, with showcases that open out for the music of the likes of Jackson 5, Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder.

Meantime, there’s a lot of story to impart, not least the part that music played in raising black consciousness through the latter half of the last century. A seamless digital stage design colours in the show’s timeline, aided by what must be truckloads of wigs and costumes for a huge cast.

This is a show sensational enough to match its music. The audience are not just eating out of its hand here, they are actively involved. Tina from Whitefield, alone, will never forget the night she duetted live on stage with ‘Diana Ross’!

Motown the Musical is in Manchester until March 23, and comes to Blackpool in the summer.

David Upton