by David, Concierge
MOTOWN is the high-octane and thoroughly joyous new Broadway offering chronicling the creation and rise of the famous, hit-making enterprise. Berry Gordy, the legendary producer and founder of the classic record label, adapted his book Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, The Memories of Motown for the stage to tell this remarkable story.
The music is drawn from The (aptly named) Legendary Motown Catalog and features songs like “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”, “My Guy”, “Tears of a Clown”, “Dancing in the Streets”, and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” among it’s literally dozens of classic rock and roll hits. Most of songs are performed in a medley-style and not in their entirety; this is much in keeping with incredibly fast-paced story-telling which spans a thirty-five year period. In fact, if each song were sung to completion, the show would run hours longer. Not that that would be an entirely bad thing!
A few original songs written by Berry Gordy and Michael Lovesmith are added to propel certain parts of the story. “Hey, Joe (Black Like Me)” is an account of boxer Joe Lewis’ victory over Germany’s Max Smelling. The event was a defining one for Gordy as well as the African American community and the country as a whole; it also thwarted Nazi claims of Aryan superiority. The ballad “Can I Close the Door” finds our lead character trying to let go as his stars find greener pastures with more lucrative contacts at the giant record labels.
The music highlights the competitive atmosphere that characterized the Hitsville House studio. Greats like Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Mary Wells and the Jackson Five collaborate and vie for fame and hits while defining the distinctive Motown sound: soul music flavored with strong pop influences. The show reminds views of the largely segregated American culture that existed at the time, and celebrates the major influence the music had on bridging that divide. Songs like “Got a Job”, “War” and “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)” mirror the concerns and issues that defined a generation.
Choreographers Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams make impressive Broadway debuts. They authentically recreate the “microphone-style” choreography of groups like the Miracles, The Temptations and the Spinners to name a few. The cast is to be acclaimed for their high energy and precise execution.
Leading cast members commendably portray the larger than life performers who were key members of the Motown family. Charl Brown as Smokey Robinson and Bryan Terrell Clark as Marvin Gaye add a depth to their portrayals that is otherwise lacking in the book. A particular standout is the lovely Valisia LeKae who transforms from the young, eager Diane into superstar Diana Ross. Another audience favorite is Jibreel Mawry in a triumvirate of roles; Young Berry Gordy, Stevie Wonder, and an electrifying Michael Jackson.
Whether the one grew up listening to this music or is hearing it for the first time, this show is a treat for audience members of all ages. MOTOWN is the history of not just a quintessential American record label and the stars who comprised it. It is a history of a generation and the cultural touchstones that defined it. It’s also a great theatrical experience.
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