Having opened to critical acclaim at the Shaftesbury Theatre last February, Broadway hit Motown the Musical has had audiences dancing in the street as they leave the theatre for some time now, and I decided that it was finally time for me to go and see what all the fuss was about. Telling the story of the owner of Motown Records and his best known signing Diana Ross, I had heard so many good things, and whilst I did thoroughly enjoy the show, I can’t say that it met with all of my expectations.
Taking my seat up in the upper circle of the towering theatre, I was surprised to see the seats relatively empty. After all I had sat in the exact same place when I went to see Memphis and the upper circle was full to the rafters with people excited and eager for the show to begin. People sat here awaiting this performance did not seemed all that fussed to be there, more focused on eating and moving around to find a good view of the action whilst there was a slightly delayed start to the performance.
As I didn’t really know anything about the show, I have to admit that it did take a little while for me to get used to the toing and froing of time as the show began then ended back in time for the true story. Edward Baruwa was great in the role of Berry Gordy, the owner and manager of Motown Records, head of an empire producing some of the most well loved songs at the time. I was later informed that he had returned to the role at short notice which is even more impressive. Lucy St Louis also impressed as Diana Ross, taking the huge role in her stride as she bounced from song to song with endless energy.
Music is at the heart of this show, each song being used to show the growth of Motown and the impact it had on the characters lives. But as amazing as the music is, and no matter how well each song was performed, I found that there was an issue. And a rather loud one at that. Even from the very top floor of this rather large theatre, I found the orchestra to be incredibly loud, and some of the song lyrics became lost in the music on the way up to this top floor, which was a shame as the songs are great and I would have loved to be able to hear all of them properly without having to fight to hear them over the sound of the large band. I was also not keen on the audience sing along part of the show, it took away from the action and made it feel more cabaret then musical theatre performance.
Sadly, I have to say that the over loud orchestra was not the only issue I encountered on this trip to the theatre. The other issue thankfully did not have anything to do with the show. It was the audience. Sometimes I can’t help but think that I must attract bad audiences, because it seems to be a growing trend for badly behaved theatre goers. Despite the fact that the upper circle was mostly empty, people still insisted in moving around and switching seats, even when the show was being performed. I have to admit that I did move seats, only a couple along the row, just before the show started. But this was because of the man in front of my original seat. The rack of the seats of the upper circle is large and me being quite short, this should have been a good thing. But the man in front of me insisted on leaning right forwards in his seat, blocking my view. So I took advantage of being alone in my row of seats and moved a couple along to give myself a better view. Then there was the lady in front tucking into her sandwiches during the opening moments of the show and stinking out the circle with whatever was in it; whatever it was did not smell very good.
Despite the issues, I did enjoy the show. The acting was great and the music was amazing, it did leave me humming along as I left the theatre. The story was good, I found it very interesting to learn about and understand more about where the music of Motown came from and how it all came about with the trails and tribulations of the music industry. I think the biggest cheer of the night went to Nana Agyeman Bediako playing the roles of young Berry Gordy, young Stevie Wonder and young Michael Jackson. He was amazing and the audience were absolutely loving it every time he came on stage and the young actor made it all look very easy. I had actually seen him before, in the role of Young Lola in Kinky Boots, so it was great to see him really perform in this larger role.
In conclusion, Motown is a great show but it is not without it’s issues. If only the orchestra had been a little bit quieter so that I could hear every lyric clearly. The music and the way in which it is performed is the real star of the show, with a interesting story holding it all together. It is a shame really that the circle was so empty. Admittedly from there I could not see how full of the rest of the theatre was but I hope it was decent. I hate the idea of performers giving their all for a half empty house, they deserve much more than that.