MOTOWN @ WMC – Review

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I have often wondered, do actors become attractive people, or do attractive people become actors?

That old question was certainly the case this week as Motown, the musical about the record label which gave rise to such stars as Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, hit the Wales Millennium Centre.

On Press Night, we were treated to a glamorous reception, and it seemed like everyone was there: The Sprout, WICID, Radio Platfform and more were all in attendance. Then we filed into the auditorium, and the stage was dark, a single giant M lighting up the seats below.

Soon the M gave way to a full assault on the senses- graphics flash away, changing the backdrop from a family home, a car factory and a bar in Detroit to a 60s recording studio, the almost all-black cast crowding around a wireless to hear the speeches of Martin Luther King.

JFK dies, manager Berry Gordo cries and soon the whole studio is now a 1980s LA paradise: golden hit records adorn the walls. “Amazing graphics,” one of the girls in my row remarks- for all these backdrops are being done by some very clever use of huge digital screens. Next, out come the Supremes, shaking what they’ve got. “Yes, great graphics,” I reply. For to deny the beauty of this cast and its production would be to lie.

The production is not without its faults though. It took me most of act one to cut through the strong American drawl of the cast to understand, honestly, a word anyone was saying or singing.

Then came the worst moment of all. Already a production making great use of breaking the fourth wall, Diana Ross, at the height of her stardom, briefly comes down from the Las Vegas stage (one of the show’s best jokes involves Cardiff) to invite, or rather bully, two unwitting members of the audience to join her in song. If you are one of that unfortunately selected congregation, make sure to know the songs off by heart. “Where are you from, darling?” coos Diana. “Newport…” shyly replies our local gal. Although initially provoking encouraging or perhaps sympathetic laughter, the following moments of improvised crooning went down like a lead balloon.

The show is better suited in general for big fans of the Motown back catalogue, with prior knowledge of the storyline, which, going in blind, I didn’t manage to make out very well.

In favour of the show, a beautiful European woman who shall remain anonymous fell asleep during its smooth grooves, and decided to kip on my shoulder. So that was an interesting night, at least.

MOTOWN continues at the WMC until 6 April.

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