A review by Suzanne Birrell.
Julius Thomas III as Berry Gordy (center right) & Cast MOTOWN THE MUSICAL First National Tour (C) Joan Marcus, 2015
Motown, the Musical is a story of a man and his dreams, the history of a time, and a legacy of songs all rolled into one most satisfying show. The man is Berry Gordy who launched the careers of The Supremes, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Four Tops and the list goes on and on.
The time is 1959 when Barry Gordy founded a record company in Detroit called Motown and the story takes us through race riots and the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and the Kennedy Brothers to 1988 when Mr. Gordy sold Motown to MCA in Los Angeles. During that time Motown played in incredibly important part breaking down racial barriers with the racial integration of popular music and 110 records in the top ten between 1961 and 1971. The legacy of songs is a long one. In Motown -The Musical close to 60 classics plus three originals penned for this production by Berry Gordy and Michael Lovesmith are featured in the show.
(Above) Jesse Nager as Smokey Robinson MOTOWN THE MUSICAL First National Tour (C) Joan Marcus, 2015
(Left) Jarran Muse as Marvin Gaye & Cast MOTOWN THE MUSICAL First National Tour (c) Joan Marcus, 2014
In Motown, The Musical the segue between songs and through the story is brilliantly done. The soul and the sound is not altered for the stage show at all. Julius Thomas III is dynamic as Barry Gordy and Allison Semmes as Diana Ross is Wow! what a voice. Leon Outlaw Jr. who played young Barry Gordy and young Stevie Wonder had the audience in the palm of his hand when he belted the songs as a young Michael Jackson. The contrast in personalities made for a captivating show. Jesse Nagar was endearing as singer, songwriter, record executive, and Berry's loyal friend Smokey Robinson. Jarran Muse gave us the rebel Marvin Gaye and the audience responded with a collective nod when he expressed the thought that he didn't need Berry to be his father because he had a father.
Reed L Shannon as Michael Jackson (center) with the Jackson 5
MoTOWN THE MUSICAL First National Tour
(c) Joan Marcus, 2014
I mean no disrespect to the original performers but the singers on this stage might have been better than the originals Motown singers. I think that they surely did dance better. But then perhaps it's because I never heard any of the original Motown live and hearing these songs live was such a thrill.
Berry Gordy and the Cast of Motown.
Photo by Rich Polk
Afterwards, when Berry Gordy himself took the stage, I was happy to see that the man and the story were really linked. The sense of humor, the vision, the strength of family and belonging that he brought to the world is there on stage and in the show. The right amount of comedy and pathos and great music; dreams that he kept alive; and a legacy that lives on. Such a wonderful show. I really am lost for words on this one. (See the Video HERE)
Other observations: Having seen the Jersey Boys with an untold number of expletives on every page, be advised: Motown does have one. (and we were all so surprised at who uttered it) Bring the kids to this one. Bring your significant other or friend who doesn't like musicals. The story and dancing and music are all accessible. They even use a real piano on stage.
One other note: Mr. Berry Gordy publicly thanked the Nederlander's for their support and vision. He said that when others were asking how he was going to "Broadway-ize Motown" the Nederlander organization supported his vision to "bring Motown to Broadway and the rest of the world." Motown gave us great music. Motown the Musical does not bow to Broadway, but does pay proper homage to a legacy of artists and music.
Highly Recommended for the entire family. An Absolute Must See. A satisfying evening of Great Entertainment. If you like good music, get ready, be there, no need to shop around, Motown is in town. Say you heard it through the grapevine.
Motown - The Musical is playing at the Pantages, Hollywood. through June 7, 2015
Julius Thomas III as Berry Gordy, Allison Semmes as Diana Ross
MOTOWN THE MUSICAL First National Tour
(C) Joan Marcus, 2015\