MOTOWN THE MUSICAL Gets Audiences On Their Feet

Relive nearly 60 hits from the Motown Records catalogue and organized to tell the story of the man behind the music, BERRY GORDY.  It’s the story of an independent record producers tribulations separating business from personal, and his challenges in an effort for racial-integration in popular music. He’s behind such iconic tunes as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”, “My Girl”, “War”, “I’ll Be There”, and even “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”.  It’s a concert of a musical that requires constraint from every muscle to not jump up and sing every song!  MOTOWN THE MUSICAL is for just about everyone that’s insanely fun from the first note to the final curtain call.

Let’s get the required part out of the way, shall we?  Directed by CHARLES RANDOLPH-WRIGHT, MOTOWN THE MUSICAL is the all American dream story from wannabe championship boxer to music mogul who launched the careers to the likes of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, and yes, even more!

Through Berry’s creation of Motown in 1959 to his attempt to keep the soul of the record company alive through the 80’s, he was able to break-through difficult obstacles our society had in in the way.  His array of number one hits have been enjoyed by all and allowed for the entire country to dance to the same beat.  These were not “black person songs”, but songs sung by black people that related to everyone, no matter their color of skin.

I am not going to bore you about the amazing talent that brought this musical to life besides making sure everyone understands that MOTOWN THE MUSICAL is based on the book To Be Loved by Berry Gordy himself.  Every aspect of this production is on point.  It isn’t to not pay credit where credit is due, but to make sure I get across why you should see this show.  Stat!

Motown the Musical

MOTOWN THE MUSICAL is every catchy cliche quote in the book. It’s really that sensational, riveting, engaging and electrifying!  It’s catchy (well duh), it has almost 60 popular hits we all know, but it’s eye-popping, bright and big, emotional, and in every way satisfying.  So what I’m really trying to get at, I liked it.

There are plenty of performances by The Temptations in their garish multi-solid color suits and The Supremes in their shimmering gold dresses.  The Jackson 5 arrive in their groovy 70’s entire and Stevie Wonder gets escorted in braided and all.  For a moment you will feel as if it’s really them right in front of you.

The entire first Act is a marathon of countless songs that have probably already found their way to your heart, yet now you get to see them as if your seeing them performed by the artists in that  era of time.  The story is zippy as is the show, but it must be at approximately a 2 1/2 hour running time.  The audience cheers at every start of a song as it becomes recognizable nearly at an instant, and then even more so when it’s one of those more meaningful hits, i.e.: “My Girl”.

It starts with the ear-piercing music coming from the orchestra pit and then it’s boom boom boom and BAM… things start to get serious, which leads to the second Act.  Act I is happy-go-lucky with barriers being hurtled over quickly and every resolution sung to a lighter tune.  As the story progresses however, the audience is faced with more serious events of the times like the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, then later the introduction of the Black Panthers, and onto the people against Berry Gordy’s brand of music.

Each of Act feels entirely different from each other, yet fits perfectly with the progression of the music.  Mind you most songs are just barely snippets of their entirety, but explainable due to the number they must perform.  Berry Gordy, JULIUS THOMAS III (Original Broadway cast, Xanadu, Shrek), actually only performs 4 songs with several being original tracks written by Berry, but he wasn’t an actual singer himself.  However, the musical is the telling of the story seen through his eyes and nothing feels forced.  The audience is treated with songs sung in a way to progress the story as well as done in a concert-like fashion.  This concept allows for the audience to transport different decades pretending as if they are in that audience at the Ed Sullivan Show to being in Vegas watching young Diana Ross perform to a small audience.

I must mention one of The Diana Ross performances, played by ALLISON SEMMES, and truly one of the key players in MOTOWN THE MUSICAL, as it was something truly special.  SEEMES plays the strong diva with a large presence and vocal pipes for days, but it was a faux concert that takes places that had a very memorable moment.  Without giving too much away, she calls members of the audiences up to help sing one of her key songs.  The first was your typical shy young lady that seemed nervous and excited to share this moment, but the second invitee was tall black gentlemen, a silver fox as she put it, that ended up having pipes of a god!  He belted out the lyrics only to the surprise of the audience causing for a momentous standing applause with people shouting in praise.

Throughout the entire show there seemed to be more hootin’ and hollerin’ than one may expect from a class act musical like this.  However, that’s the type of show this is.  People are too attached and too excited for nearly every song to just hold back.  It creates a fun, exciting night at the theater.

This was a passion project for Berry Gordy and eats a little too much into the idea that he never felt he received enough credit nor enough praise from family and his artists.  It has a proper overall conclusion, but may be a tad narcissistic.  Nevertheless, I still found myself enjoying every moment of the musical.

The characters were all well-rounded and fitting to their role.  The production has to be careful as the entire show is based around non-fictional characters, many still alive today.  The show hangs around many of the same characters with most playing other roles due to the nature of so many famous singers being represented.  Costume changes and wigs do the trick perfectly along with many spot on impersonations.

It’s rare that I find a musical that I wish I could see again right away, but MOTOWN THE MUSICAL is one of those. It’s mostly upbeat, lively and filled with nostalgia.  Younger audiences should still be familiar with most songs and appreciate getting to see these performed as originally meant to be seen.  The story is simple and moral straight forward.  It’s an important story of our nation through rapid change that every audience should get as well as value.  The catchy tunes help forget about the serious undertones, but the message remains clear.  Berry successful gets the respect he deserves.

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Joel Covey
Joel has been writing for SoCalThrills for the past decade covering entertainment, events, and theater since joining the site. He is a CSUF alum, studying within the Communication and Radio / TV / Film colleges.