Written by the man himself, it paints – loosely – a picture of a man driven by his vision and neglecting his personal life as a result. Oh, and he’s vulnerable too – we get to see a bedroom encounter with Diana Ross (with whom he had a lengthy relationship) which is, literally, a flop.
With so many fantastic songs to fit in, there’s not much room for any great detail about the rise and fall of the Motown label, his relationships or the political backdrop. But if you’re there to enjoy the sounds, you’ll have a good, if occasionally frustrating evening – one longs to hear more of those hits (truncated here) from Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder et al.
Among a talented cast, Kwame Kandekore (on the night I went) gives his all as a very young Michael Jackson, Cedric Neal makes a strong impact as Gordy and, if you’re sitting near the front, you just might – like admirably game Patrick from Canada and Marie from Northampton – end up being encouraged to sing “Reach out and Touch”, solo, by Lucy St Louis’s glamorous Ross.
Benedict Andrews and Andrew Upton’s translation of Jean Genet’s 1947 fact-based three hander is a much darker affair. It began life in Sydney with Cate Blanchett (Upton’s wife) and French actress Isabelle Huppert as the eponymous servant sisters, stopped off in New York and has now been significantly reimagined by Jamie Lloyd. This time the emphasis is on the colour as well as the class divide, and the setting has been moved to the States, where the two sisters Solange and Claire take advantage of the absence of their wealthy white mistress (Downton Abbey’s Laura Carmichael carelessly patronising in her silvery grey fur and candy-striped stockings) to enact sadistic ritual ceremonies of degradation and murder.
The audience is seated on either side of a giant glass casket, its floor strewn with rosy petals – all very pretty and Alexander McQueen. But what goes on inside this privileged boudoir is foul-mouthed and filthy as they plan her murder. Fresh Meat’s Zawe Ashton delivers her lines in a grating monotone as she writhes dramatically in a blonde wig and drag queen make up, but it’s Uzo Aduba’s Solange who walks away with the acting honours in an uncomfortable evening of humiliation and despair.
MOTOWN THE MUSICAL
Shaftesbury Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, WC2H 8DP
Tube – Tottenham Court Road
Currently booking until 18 February 2017
£19.50 – £75.00 + Premium Seats
Trafalgar Studios, Whitehall, SW1A 2DY
Tube – Charing Cross
Until 21 May
£29.50 – £52.50 + Premium Seats + some £15 Mondays