Entertainment Theatre & Arts

Wednesday 16 October 2019

Hitsville hits the Grand Canal with magical Motown moments

Motown The Musical

Grand Canal Theatre, Dublin

Berry Gordy wrote the show and doesn't hold back on the significant role Diana Ross played in his personal life
Berry Gordy wrote the show and doesn't hold back on the significant role Diana Ross played in his personal life

Aine O'Connor

Cultural impact is inherently impossible to fully appreciate outside of the frame that creates it. And while that certainly applies to us, now trying to fully understand the enormity of the achievements of a black man in Detroit in 1959, his achievements have a soundtrack that has rung out over the last 60 years.

Motown the Musical uses that soundtrack to tell the story of the man, Berry Gordy, and set it in the context from which it grew and what it meant. And this slick, flawless show is a wonderful tribute to the man, the institution and the music.

It opens in 1983 with Gordy (Edward Baruwa) disillusioned and refusing to attend the concert to celebrate 25 years of Motown Records. He feels his dream has crumbled and the stars he created have abandoned him. The show, directed by Charles Randolph-Wright, shoots straight back to 1959 and we see the then 29-year-old Gordy getting an $800 loan from his family to set up a record label that he first calls Hitsville USA. The rest is musical history - but along the way the show references the major cultural events of the time - the US Civil Rights movement, JFK's assassination and MLK's assassination, interweaving songs we have all come to know and love.

Characters like Marvin Gaye (played by Shak Gabbidon-Williams), Smokey Robinson (Nathan Lewis) are all richly present - but the story is dominated by Gordy's relationship with Diana Ross (Karis Anderson).

From leads to ensemble, the performances are uniformly excellent, the costumes evocative, the sets and lighting deceptively simple but effective. For Motown fans it is an obligatory show, and even non-musical fans will really enjoy the story but especially the music. In a lovely touch, the final scenes have the real-life 1983 party projected overhead.

'Motown the Musical' is at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre until February 23

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