Motown The Musical, ©Tristram Kenton

What to expect from Motown the Musical? Tribute acts en masse? A parody of some of America’s finest musicians? Unlimited schmaltz?

Wrong. This is the story of Motown, a musical history of the prestigious, legendary and iconic record label. And after two years in the West End, this exciting, vibrant production is on tour and coming to Oxford’s New Theatre this Christmas.

A scene from Motown The Musical,

We all know about Motown introducing predominantly black, soul, disco and funk music to America, and then the rest of the world, in an era when racial segregation and the civil rights movement was raging outside the Detroit recording studio.

that’s why Motown The Musical works so well, because it’s carried along by the propulsion of the story, as much as the artists it introduces

Founded by Berry Gordy (Edward Baruwa carrying the weight of such an esteemed part with alacrity), with an $800 dollar loan from his family, the legendary record producer’s struggle, passion, obsession and belief are woven through this detailed musical in the songs and artists he nurtured.

Berry Gordy (Edward Baruwa)

Hence we meet Diana Ross ( an incredible performance by Karis Anderson) and The Supremes, she being the love of his life, Smokey Robinson (X-Factor’s Nathan Lewis) his lifelong friend, Marvin Gaye (played by local actor Shak Gabbidon-Williams),

Marvin Gaye ( played by local actor Shak Gabbidon-Williams), all pics by ©Tristram Kenton


The Jackson 5 ( Jove Domingo’s depiction of a mini Michael Jackson is worth the ticket price alone), Stevie Wonder (Danial Haswell) The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Miracles…..the list goes on and on.

Diana Ross by Karis Anderson

And while the songs are instantly recognisable, from I Heard It Through The Grapevine to My Girl, they are all in context, while not dominating. 

And perhaps that’s why Motown The Musical works so well, because it’s carried along by the propulsion of the story, as much as the artists it introduces.

The cast is what holds this musical high above the shoulders of its competition, the sheer volume of talent, passion and belief, apparent on stage, their vocal dexterity stunning us time and time again.

A massive responsibility, representing such iconic singers, but one they rise to time and time again.

A scene from Motown The Musical

Bittersweet in parts; the stars Berry produced, inevitably moving onto bigger things, as Motown slowly ground to a halt and was sold off by an increasingly embittered Barry.

Concluding with his unexpected appearance at the 25 year live TV reunion in 1983, which pans out under live video footage of the real life event, Berry finally embraced his accomplishments and appeared on stage with his protégées to recognise his life-enhancing achievements and the longevity of his work.

Ultimately though, despite its inadvertent history lesson, Motown The Musical is a feel-good show. It raises you up until you’re clapping in your seats, singing along and revelling in this seismic piece of musical history. The standing ovation is well deserved every night.

Motown The Musical is the ultimate antidote to our current climate, and while not obviously festive, it’s an inspired choice for the New Theatre’s Christmas run. 

Let’s face it we could all with a bit of uplifting escapism and Motown The Musical provides it in bundles.

Motown The Musical runs from Dec 17-Jan 4 at Oxford’s New Theatre.

Katherine MacAlister


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