Motown The Musical Bristol Hippodrome:
Motown The Musical
11/01/2019 at 19.30pm
There’s a big place in the hearts of Bristol people for Motown and that was evident in the auditorium of The Bristol Hippodrome last night.
Legends such as Martha Reeves and The Vandellas, Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder performed at the Colston Hall in March 1965. This was before they went on to become much loved household names and subsequently placed the style of music firmly on the Bristol music scene.
Berry Gordy’s Motown label launched the careers of its artistes including Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, The Jackson 5, Diana Ross and the Supremes and Stevie Wonder. All the label’s stars feature in this musical and more than 50 songs are packed in throughout the show.
The Bristol theatre was clearly full of Motown fans last night who took to their feet in appreciation at the end.
It has to be said that the cast were phenomenal. It’s a big one with the ensemble doubling as some of the biggest names in music history, no easy feat to pull off.
Vocally, it was brilliant, but the story felt lost and unfocused during Act One. A lack of set design doesn’t really help, with the action relying mainly on projections instead.
Motown The Musical falls somewhere between Thriller The Musical and Jersey Boys. It doesn’t quite have the celebratory feel of the former and doesn’t quite manage the finesse of the latter.
The first half feels muddled and at times, songs felt too shoehorned in. When cast were allowed to perform their songs in entirety, it was brilliant. Do You Love Me was a good example of when the show really worked. Had it been more like the 90’s Blues Brothers musical, people would probably have been on their feet dancing.
But too often, popular songs were abridged, leaving me feeling like I was excited for a First Bus 36 service that was ‘due’ on screens – then never came.
Act Two was better than the first, and Karis Anderson as Diana Ross was sensational. The way she pulled the audience in as if she was performing a gig as the actual character was brilliant.
This is an important musical. It’s one of just a handful which celebrates black music and black history, showing Motown in the historical context of racism, segregation and the assassinations of both Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy.
The harsh reality of racist language and segregated audiences at a Motown music gig in Alabama is not shied away from. In a predominantly white Bristol audience last night, anyone in danger of making bigoted comments on Facebook news stories in the future will hopefully have taken something away from this.
The show is on at The Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 02 February 2019. I really wanted to like this show. It features music by great artistes, performed by exceptional singers and set against an important historical and cultural backdrop. But, when it comes to musical numbers, less is more and when it comes to set design, some would help.