Venue: Grand Opera House, Friday, June 21
I was looking forward to The Magic of Motown having seen other shows of this type such as Smokey Joes Café and Jersey Boys in the West End of London.
Tonight’s show started with a voiceover introducing the cast. Just as I was settling into the first song I was hit on the head by a handbag belonging to a woman in the row behind who was arriving late to her seat. A lot of people were having to stand up to allow latecomers to access their seats; perhaps the Opera House should have a policy of only allowing latecomers in between songs.
The audience, whose average age must have been between 45 and 65, were clearly up for a good night out and from the moment the band started playing, people clapped along and cheered.
The Magic of Motown cast consists of four backing musicians, all dressed in Blues Brothers-type suits (with a change of shirt for the second half). The quality of the musicianship was good but not exceptional; in fact I felt the musicianship of local band The Supermodels could give these guys a run for their money.
The sound was OK apart from the keyboard player’s string and brass sounds which sounded very 1980s. There is no reason in this day and age of high quality orchestra and brass samples that inferior keyboard sounds should be tolerated.
The show was fronted by seven singers, three women and four men, who all had incredible voices and the moves to match. There was a costume change every two or three songs. Their laundry bill must be massive because the whole cast was working incredibly hard and sweat was pouring from all of the performers.
Yet although everyone seemed to be having a good time I felt the show lacked soul.
The show was last in York in October 2012 when there was 16 members of the cast (an extra male and female vocalist and three extra musicians) and with the cast now down to 11 corners have been cut and it shows.
The Magic of Motownis still directed and led by singer Andre Lajeune. It is obvious that this is Andre’s show; other singers have their moment in the spotlight but Andre wants everyone to know that he is the boss.
André had a great voice, but he sings some songs that other members of the cast could clearly sing better. The first low point of the evening is when André does the Diana Ross & Lionel Richie duet Endless Love em> which he plays for laughs, and his performance is cringingly bad. The poor girl singing Diana Ross’s part does her best to salvage the situation but all hope is lost.
The next low point is when Andre is led on stage by one of the girls pretending to be a blind Stevie Wonder and he even mimics Stevie’s head movement which was in such bad taste I felt like leaving. This is such a shame because vocally André sings the Stevie Wonder songs brilliantly. There is a little problem with the bands timing in Sir Duke and the vocals overpower the music on occasion but these are small matters compared to watching a pretend blind man sing.
By the time we got to the Jackson Five the show was becoming pantomime with the four guys and one of the girls wearing big afro wigs (the girl was singing Michael Jackson’s parts as a soprano – which didn’t work). It was enough to make poor Michael J turn in his grave. It comes across as less tribute and more a weird parody. If I could have left I would have but I was blocked in by all the middle-aged women cavorting in the aisles.
It was clear from the standing ovation at the end of the show that the majority of the audience loved it. Although I wasn’t alone. There was a gentleman sat in front of me who wasn’t leaping about like a thing possessed. The female friend who came with me enjoyed the show but agreed about the poor taste Stevie Wonder and Jackson Five impressions and said she wouldn’t recommend it.
And neither would I In fact go and see the real legend Geno Washington who is still touring. Granted it’s not a Motown show but Geno covers a lot of the same songs in his set and you’ll still have change from 20 quid.