The grapevine’s been talking, and I heard Motown: The Musical is a smash hit production. Y’all weren’t lying. When I tell you I lived my best life from the third row last night. CHILE!
Back with more relevance than ever, Motown: The Musical opened to a packed house, swaying left and right with excitement levels that matched the neon, bright lights of David Korins’ beautiful set.
Based on Berry Gordy’s autobiography, Motown dramatizes the inception of the record label and Gordy’s relationship with Diana Ross.
Going into the theater knowing this is a jukebox musical, sets the right expectation as to the show you’re going to get. Berry Gordy is the mastermind that brought us classics from Diana Ross and The Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, and more. Well those classics are here, and they had us singing along from the audience.
We start with a fun play off between The Temptations and The Four Tops, where ensemble standout, Nik Alexander, was singing for the blood of the lamb, in preparation for the televised Motown reunion. We flashback to the moment Berry (Chester Gregory) knew he wanted to pursue record making, to the mounting of Hitsville, USA, and the story starts moving in full force from there.
Allison Semmes shines as Diana Ross, taking us on her journey from school girl to fierce front runner in the world of 70/80s pop. She steals the show with her warm rendition of “Reach Out And Touch,” where she brings up members of the audience to sing along with her.
Let me tell you. Two of God’s beautiful black children were called up and sang in the harmony and innocence that baby girls of about 6 and 2 could give you.
And then there was a Sir. Sir (an audience member) was also called up to the stage. From the way he was suggesting he was ready to participate.. you would have thought he was, well, ready! But he was not ready at all. He did not have the range.
But these cast members did have the range! Leon Outlaw Jr., played young Stevie/ Berry/ and Michael. He showed up and showed out in the Jackson 5 section as Michael Jackson! The audience was so energized, I thought they were going to be forced to encore. Jarran Muse’s Marvin Gaye stopped me in my tracks with the political anthem “What’s Going On.”
Outside of the Motown classics, there were a couple of songs penned just for the show. Gregory’s 11 o’clock number, “Can I Close The Door?” took us home, humming the tunes of Black Excellence. The tunes that are part of our history and forever part of American culture.
We had vocals. We had gowns. We had choreo. And most importantly we had fun.
Last night was the most enjoyable moment I’ve had in the past couple of weeks in light of current events. I was reminded of the sociocultural impact that Motown music had in the late 60s and 70s. From Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” album, to documenting Martin Luther King Jr. “I Have a Dream Speech,” Motown artists took a stance. We’re asking the same questions that were asked then. What’s going on? Can love really conquer hate? Do our lives matter?
Motown is a reminder that music is a healer, a unifer, and a catalyst for change. It’s really got a hold on me and my spirit.
Peace, Love & Understanding. ✌🏾
The smash hit production, featuring the music of the legendary Motown catalogue and a book by Berry Gordy, stars musical theater veteran Chester Gregory (Hairspray, Tarzan, Cry-Baby, Sister Act) as “Berry Gordy”. As he did with previous productions, Charles Randolph-Wright directs.
Three original Broadway ensemble members now shine in leading roles: Allison Semmes as “Diana Ross”, Jarran Muse as “Marvin Gaye” and Jesse Nager as “Smokey Robinson”. J.J. Batteast and Leon Outlaw, Jr. alternate as Young Berry Gordy/Stevie Wonder/Michael Jackson.
The 33-member ensemble cast features Nik Alexander, Erick Buckley, Chante Carmel, Chadaé, Lynorris Evans, Anissa Felix, Talya Groves, Rod Harrelson, Robert Hartwell, Rodney Earl Jackson, Jr., Trisha Jeffrey, Jamie LaVerdiere, Elijah Ahmad Lewis,Loren Lott, Jarvis B. Manning, Jr., Krisha Marcano, Marq Moss, Rashad Naylor,Ramone Owens, Olivia Puckett, Nicholas Ryan, Jamison Scott, Joey Stone, Doug Storm, Martina Sykes, Nik Walker and Galen J. Williams.
The original production of Motown The Musical opened on Broadway April 14th, 2013 and closed January 18th, 2015. After touring the country since 2014, the touring company landed on Broadway Tuesday, July 12 at The Nederlander Theatre, for a strictly limited 18-week-only engagement through Sunday, November 13, 2016.