Review: Motown the Musical (Broadway in Chicago)

| May 12, 2014
Broadway in Chicago's "Motown the Musical," written by Berry Gordy, directed by Charles Randolph-Wright. (photo credit: Joan Marcus)        
      
Motown the Musical

Book by Berry Gordy
Music/Lyrics from Motown catalog
Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright  
at Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph (map)
thru Aug 13  |  tickets: $30-$138   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets 
    
        
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“Wow” spelled backwards!

     

Broadway in Chicago's "Motown the Musical," written by Berry Gordy, directed by Charles Randolph-Wright. (photo credit: Joan Marcus)

    
Broadway in Chicago presents
    
Motown the Musical

Review by Lawrence Bommer

“Wow!”–spelled backwards… In the box office-busting tradition of Jersey Boys, Rain, The Buddy Holly Story, Million Dollar Quartet, Mamma Mia! and other boffo jukebox musicals, Motown The Musical—a success as surefire as the sun–is a legacy triumph. This state-of-the-art rouser goes the second to 1,000th mile to celebrate 25 years of pop music glory. Written by and all about Berry Gordy (present at opening night with his right-hand man Smokey Robinson), these near three hours chronicle Berry’s 56 years of “golden oldies” glory, specifically the rise and righteousness of a funky Detroit sensation called Motown.

Clifton Oliver in Broadway in Chicago's "Motown the Musical," written by Berry Gordy, directed by Charles Randolph-Wright. (photo credit: Joan Marcus)We watch it soar—from an $800 loan from the family-run “Hitsville U.S.A.” home in Detroit, started by former pugilist and songwriter Gordy and his close-knit clan, to the difficult days of bringing a new sound to the Old South and its Jim Crow discrimination. Slowly, seemingly inevitably, the independent label comes to dominate disk jockeys and record charts with powerhouses Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Rick James, Teena Marie, Jackie Wilson, and Marvin Gaye. Later comes Motown’s still-controversial relocation to Los Angeles and the change of priorities, if not sound, that came with the move. Throughout, great groups got the Motown vote of confidence—The Supremes, Four Tops, Temptations, Vandellas, Jackson 5, Commodores, Marvelettes, Contours.

The saga is neatly bookmarked by the 25th Motown anniversary tribute—when all the stars that Gordy put in the skies returned to thank the mercurial founder—at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in 1983. (That’s 31 years ago and the magic won’t retire.)

Rearrange 1983 and you’ve got the magic year—1938—when a young Berry Gordy was inspired by Joe “The Brown Bomber” Louis” boxing victory over Nazis hero Max Schmeling to make his mark on music. Along the quarter-century way we see the driven Berry (Clifton Oliver, firing on all cylinders) launching careers and rolling with the punches, trying out Hollywood (“Lady Sings The Blues,” “Mahogany”), and maneuvering through the minefield of stylistic, political and social challenges of the volatile 60s and 70s.

In the chronicling style that worked so well with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and illustrated by Daniel Brodie’s wizard video projections, we learn of Berry’s first footholds in the music biz at the Flame Show Bar, how showcasing talent naturally segued into recording it, triumphs at the Ed Sullivan Theatre, Manchester, England, Paris, and the Copacabana, as well as Berry’s tempestuous romance with Diana Ross (gorgeous and worthy Allison Semmes), his struggles with other record companies and his sometimes fractious musical family, and his occasional despair that too much came too fast.

Broadway in Chicago's "Motown the Musical," written by Berry Gordy, directed by Charles Randolph-Wright. (photo credit: Joan Marcus) Broadway in Chicago's "Motown the Musical," written by Berry Gordy, directed by Charles Randolph-Wright. (photo credit: Joan Marcus)Allison Semmes in Broadway in Chicago's "Motown the Musical," written by Berry Gordy, directed by Charles Randolph-Wright. (photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Of course, all this chart-busting, disco-driven, Billboard-owning Motor City and Tinsel Town pop history is illustrated by 50 non-negotiable classics like “My Girl,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You,” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “The Happening”—too many to list but not to make this homage to hits, not just a blast from the past, but a virtual bombardment.

Thanks to wickedly competent director Charles Randolph-Wright, the huge, costume-changing, hard-hoofing cast deliver unstoppable and awesomely accurate musical and dance recreations (by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams) of showbiz staples. We’re present at the creation as much as rocking down Memory Lane. The only thing missing—as it is not in the Frankie Valli and Buddy Holly bio-musicals—is any backstage, recording-studio look at how Motown found and shaped its sound. There’s no mention of influences here, as if it was born fully grown like Venus from the half shell. But process of elimination clearly played a big part.

Never mind. We know it when we hear it and we love it, as before—on the spot and ever after. This generous musical mongers the memories magnificently. More than cars, it’s what “Motown the Musical” means that keeps Detroit vital. It’ll also pack the Oriental Theatre for many months that matter.

  
Rating: ★★★★
  
   

Motown the Musical continues through August 13 at The Ford Center for the Performing Arts (Oriental Theatre), 24 W. Randolph (map), with performances Tuesdays at 7:30pm, Wednesdays 2pm and 7:30pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays 2pm and 8pm, Sundays 2pm.  Tickets are $30-$138, and are available by phone (800-775-2000) or at Ticketmaster.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at BroadwayInChicago.com(Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes, includes an intermission)

Reed L. Shannon stars as Michael Jackson in Broadway in Chicago's "Motown the Musical," written by Berry Gordy, directed by Charles Randolph-Wright. (photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Photos by Joan Marcus 


     

artists

cast

Clifton Oliver (Berry Gordy), Allison Semmes (Diana Ross), Nicholas Christopher (Smokey Robinson), Jarran Muse (Marvin Gaye), Leon Outlaw, Jr., Reed Lorenzo Shannon (Young Berry, Stevie, Michael), Erick Buckley, Patrice Covington, Jamarice Daughtry, Ashley Tamar Davis, Lynorris Evans, Melanie Evans, Robert Hartwell, Rodney Earl Jackson, Jr., Trisha Jeffrey, Grasan Kingsberry, Elijah Ahmad Lewis, Jarvis B. Manning, Jr., Krisha Marcano, Marq Moss, Rashad Naylor, Chadae Nichol, Ramone Owens,  Jamison Scott, Douglas Storm, Martina Sykes, Christian Dante White (ensemble), Devon Goffman, Jennie Harney, LaTrisa A. Harper, Rod Harrelson, Nic Rowe, Galen J. Williams (swing)

orchestra

Darryl Archibald (conductor, keyboard 1), John Samorian (asst. conductor, keyboard 2), Trevor Holder (drums), Larry Bowen, Tim Burke (trumpet, flugelhorn), Andy Baker (trombone), Steve Leinheiser, Jim Gailloreto, Paul McGinley (reeds), Chuck Bontrager (strings), Chuck Webb (acoustic and electric bass), Felton Offard, Buddy Fambro (guitars), Jeff Handley, Bobby Everson (percussion)

behind the scenes

Charles Randolph-Wright (director), Berry Gordy (co-producer, book writer, additional songs), Michael Lovesmith (additional songs), Darryl Archibald (music director, conductor), Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams (choreography), David Korins (scenic design), Esosa (costume design), Natasha Katz (lighting design), Peter Hylenski (sound design), Daniel Brodie (projection design), Charles LaPointe (hair, wig design), Tesley Company, Bethany Knox (casting), Schele Williams (asst. director), Brian H. Brooks (asst. choreographer), Anna R. Kaltenbach (production stage manager), Julia P. Jones (production supervisor), David Benken (technical supervisor), Bespoke Theatricals (general management), Nina Lannan (executive producer), Allied Live (tour marketing, press), Linda J. Stewart (marketing, press outreach), Michael Keller (music coordinator), Ethan Popp (music supervision, arrangements, co-orchestrator), Bryan Crook (co-orchestrator, additional arrangements), Zane Mark (dance music arrangements), Randy Cohen (keyboard programmer), David Goldsmith, Dick Scanlan (script consultants), Christie Burton (creative consultants), Rod Harrelson (dance captain), LaTrisa Harper (asst. dance captain), Doug Morris, Kevin McCollum (co-producers), Joan Marcus (photos)

Jarran Muse as Marvin Gaye in Broadway in Chicago's "Motown the Musical," written by Berry Gordy, directed by Charles Randolph-Wright. (photo credit: Joan Marcus)

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Category: 2014 Reviews, Broadway in Chicago, Lawrence Bommer, Musical, National Tours, Oriental Theatre (Ford)

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