It’s 1983 – the year that Motown Records celebrates 25 illustrious (but by no means easy-going) years – and the stars have aligned for one final night. Stevie Wonder has donned his finest jacket and Teena Marie has put her feelings behind her in order to honour the man who created it all: Berry Gordy. At first reluctant to attend, the production opens at his home, and in a flashback that takes him back to his childhood the 1938 Joe Louis vs Max Schmeling boxing match, the tale of Motown begins to unfold in a glamorous chronology that commemorates both its highlights and ultimate demise.
Based upon Berry Gordy’s personal memoirs, the production offers an undoubtedly biased but nonetheless enjoyable version of events. Relying predominantly on its exceptional cast and Motown soundtrack rather than its narrative, Motown the Musical offers a celebratory glimpse into an iconic era rather than an emotional exploration of its agents.
Karis Anderson is exceptional as Diana Ross, taking command of the stage with a punchy and mesmerizing elegance, with a vocal repertoire to match. She is a natural performer and confidently breaks the fourth wall in her interactive rendition of ‘Reach Out and Touch’ without ruining the flow of the production.
Whilst evidently complex and technically well-executed, the colourful sliders that work to aide scene changes are jarring against wider scenic design choices – specifically, Daniel Brodie’s modern projection design feels out of place in a musical about the late 20th century. Its caricature depictions of locations such as the Bahamas and the Copacabana Club seem incongruous as backdrops for the live action and true-to-life stories before them, giving the production a distinctly cartoon feel in an era that is anything but.
Nevertheless, this pseudo-jukebox musical holds as much character as it does energy. With superb choreography by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams and an eye-watering number of costume changes to match, Motown the Musical really is the epitome of high-intensity entertainment.
Motown the Musical runs at the Edinburgh Playhouse until Saturday 8th December 2018.