Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Motown: The Musical is Absolutely Magical

I've got sunshine on a cloudy day....


Photo by Joan Marcus

What would the world have been like if Motown Records never existed?

I mean think about it - the entire popular musical landscape we enjoy today would essentially not exist. No Marvin Gaye. No Temptations or Commodores. No Diana Ross or the Supremes. No Smokey Robinson. No Stevie Wonder. No Rick James. No freaking MICHAEL JACKSON you guys! What a world that would be.

Photo by Joan Marcus

Thankfully, we'll never have to know thanks to Motown's founder: Berry Gordy. Berry's drive and passion for music are the molten core around which all of Motown: The Musical (currently at the Orpheum) revolves, and it's a red hot performance from start to finish. The show briefly introduces us to Berry as a young boy who was inspired watching Joe Lewis' historic boxing win, then as a relatively unsuccessful man until one day he is fed up with the white-owned music business and begins his own record company. Through a whole lot of life hacking, innovative ideas and guerrilla marketing, Berry manages to build up a behemoth of a recording company with the funky sounds of Motown at it's heart. The show whirlwinds the audience through snippets from Motown's unbelievably good catalog as the company's fortunes rise and eventually shatter, culminating in a 25th anniversary performance where Motown's greatest talent assembled to pay tribute to Berry Gordy's incredible story.

Photo by Joan Marcus

Most of this cast moves seamlessly in and out of roles in the ensemble so I unfortunately can't call them out here. It's worth noting that the whole cast is truly excellent, effortlessly weaving in between various groups of performers (Temptations vs. Commodores, anyone?) and regularly inciting the audience to explosive applause. This excellence begins at the top with the stunningly good Chester Gregory as Berry Gordy, whose dulcet tones had me swooning from the first note. Gregory is *seriously* good - think could beat Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles good - and I sure hope someone's in the wings waiting to offer him a record deal of his own. Gregory sets the standard for the rest of the cast, including Allison Semmes who embodies Diana Ross down to the last perfectly manicured nail. Semmes swans all over the stage with Ross's trademark breathy voice, beautifully blending in the songs for the Supremes and providing the show with an evanescent female presence. Jarran Muse is marvelous as the sexy, smooth Marvin Gaye, with a controlled delivery that showcases his buttery voice. And David Kaverman provides Motown with a whole lot of heart as the ever-loyal hit generator Smokey Robinson.

Photo by Joan Marcus

The set and costumes can best be described as Live in Technicolor. Motown holds nothing back from the exuberantly hued 1960s and 1970s era from whence it came, and you will be dazzled by the clever pattern mixing and rainbow of colors exploding across the stage. Most of the set is quickly interposed as cleverly painted scrims, keeping the pace quick and allowing for more resources to go to lighting effects. In addition to a string of projections Motown makes excellent use of silhouettes and the striking choreography of the charismatic performers on stage, and many of the hyper physical dances were extra fun to watch through the great lighting they used. Costumes are the height of fashion at that time, meaning full of flares and sequins and pungent colors - AKA a whole lotta fun.

Photo by Joan Marcus

I've been looking forward to seeing Motown: The Musical for months and I can safely say that I wasn't disappointed. This is such a rich story with so many incredible characters to feature that it can't help but be compelling. The creators of Motown also wisely decided to include regular snippets of history of each era of the show, firmly anchoring Motown's art within a historical context that adds an extra level of depth to every song that passes by. My only complaint is that for once I wish this show was even a little longer, giving more time to some of the amazing songs that we only get to hear portions of (I mean 3 half songs with the Jackson 5 isn't enough, right?). Seriously, here's the song list - imagine all the hits that DIDN'T make the cut!

Photo by Joan Marcus


“ABC”
“A Breathtaking Guy”
“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”
“Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”
“All Night Long”
“Baby I Need Your Lovin’”
“Ball of Confusion”
“Brick House”
“Buttered Popcorn”
“Bye Bye Baby/Two Lovers”
“Can I Close the Door” *
“Cruisin’”
“Dancing in the Street”
“Do You Love Me”
“Get Ready”
“Give It to Me, Baby”
“Good Morning, Heartache”
“Got a Job”
“Happy Birthday”
“Hey Joe (Black Like Me)” *
“I Can’t Get Next to You”
“I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)”
“I Got the Feeling”
“I Hear a Symphony”
“I Heard It Through the Grapevine”
“(I Know) I’m Losing You”
“I’ll Be There”
“It’s What’s in the Grooves That Counts” *
“I Want You Back”
“Lonely Teardrops”
“Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone”
“Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)”
“Money (That’s What I Want)”
“My Girl”
“My Guy”
“My Mama Done Told Me”
“Please, Mr. Postman”
“Reach Out (I’ll Be There)”
“Reach Out and Touch”
“Reet Petite”
“Remember Me”
“Shop Around”
“Shotgun”
“Sign, Sealed, Delivered”
“Square Biz”
“Stop in the Name of Love”
“Stubborn Kind of Fellow”
“Super Freak”
“The Happening”
“The Love You Save”
“To Be Loved”
“War”
“What’s Going On”
“Where Did Our Love Go”
“Who’s Loving You”
“You’re All I Need to Get By”
“You’re Nobody ’Til Somebody Loves You”
“You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me”

Photo by Joan Marcus

Motown: The Musical is a rip-roaring good time and absolutely worth the ticket price. In addition to teaching you about some little known history, it will leave you with a huge smile your face and twinkle in your toes. These performers are incredible and you wont' be disappointed with their A++ efforts. Motown runs through July 16 at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. For more information and to buy tickets, click on this link.