Recommended*** The long anticipated “Motown the Musical”, is here at last! Moving its energetic cast to launch the National Tour of this Broadway Spectacular as part of The Broadway In Chicago series to our Oriental Theatre for a run through August 9th. I doubt that there is anyone who is unfamiliar with what “Motown” is- it is the story, the dream story of Motown ( by the way, it was a record label as well as an institution) founder Berry Gordy’s journey from a wannabe prize fighter to the heavyweight champion of the Rock and Roll industry that brought The music of the African-American out of the darkness and into the light ( and White neighborhoods).
Careers were launched by the man: Marvin Gaye, Smoky Robinson ( who in many ways was his partner and inspiration), Stevie Wonder, The Jackson Five, The Supremes ( and the after life of one Diana Ross) and more, so much more. The show features some 50 songs from those days of yesteryear but the majority of the opening night audience knew every word to every song and the ages were from teen to octogenarian. Amazing night! Songs like “ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, :My Girl”, “Baby I Need Your Lovin'”, “Where Did Our Love Go”,” Got A Job”,” I’ll Be There”, Baby Love”, and the list goes on and on- This is more like a concert that tells a back story than a regular musical- almost three hours in total! But no one seemed to mind!
Chicago audiences are sort of spoiled when it comes to our learning about some of the great musical minds and talents from the African-American community. jackie Taylor’s Black Ensemble has been telling us these stories for years, first in small rental spaces and now in their glorious state of the art Theater on the North side. Ms. Taylor and her staff write their own stories based on the facts and give us a very solid story with great music to boot. In the case of “Motown”, this is Mr. Gordy’s story ( he wrote the book) that it is based on and while it introduces us to his life from the start until the story ends ( he is still very much with us) and shows us how Motown endured many of life’s obstacles: Race riots, J.F.K.’s asasignation, Crossing color lines in the south, getting records played in the south, and of course the death of Martin Luther King, a great deal of the story is about his great love for Diana Ross and how he took her from the Supremes and made her a star, only to lose her as his one true love. I think the feelings are even deeper today as we watch this story and know that there is more about this part of his life than some of the the others.
The music is the music of the times and as you know, fifty songs fills a lot of times. choreographed by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams with direction by Charles Randolph-Wright, this is a talented cast of performers with great energy and dynamic voices. The costumes are glitzy and the lighting amazing with perfect sound filling the theater. This is after all a large scale production with a big budget so you can expect it to be what it is- a true evening of musical history interspersed with bits of the lives of many famous performers of the times and their breaking of barriers with Motown that did more for segregation than most people credit them with. Think about it! Their music crossed the color lines faster and far more accepted than any of the organizations and churches that preached it! So, ” thank you for the music” and the heart mr. Gordy.
As Gordy in this production is the sterling Clifton Oliver, who is a bit to tall and far better looking) and the lovely Diana Ross ( Chicago native Allison Semmes, who is as real as it gets) is seemingly perfect. In fact, we even see some chemistry between the actors which is not always easy to see in a musical story on a large stage- they get it! Smoky Robinson is portrayed to perfection by Nicholas Christopher and Marvin Gaye , a Chicago favorite is deftly handled by Jarran Muse. Michael Jackson is a role that is double cast, and who also take son a young Stevie Wonder and Berry in the opening number and tonight we witnessed the amazing Reed L. Shannon, who at times brought back strong memories of the first appearances of this young talents who brought something special to his music. Another twenty five ensemble members truly make this a solid evening of entertainment clearly worth the price of the ticket ( and then some).
If Act one had been just a bit shorter with just a little more of the story opened up to us, this might have been rated a 4 or 5 star. I know that I loved the music and the majority of numbers are solid. I expect a musical to have a story with music, but in this case, “Motown” is almost a concert of the music of the 60’s with a partial story to fit it together, this only three stars, BUT, I can tell you this. You will be dancing in your seat, clapping your hands and even singing along, so why not? You only have until August 9th with performances as follows:
Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m.
Wednesdays 2 and 7:30 p.m.
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m. ( on July 6th an added 7:30 p.m.
Tickets range from $30-$138 and can be purchased at any of the Broadway in Chicago box offices, by phone at 800-775-2000, at all Ticketmaster outlets and online at www.BroadwayInChicago.com ( where you can also see about discount parking).
Tuesday and Wednesdays do offer the best options for getting closer to the stage. The Oriental is located at 24 West Randolph Street ( between State and Dearborn) with plenty of public transportation available and great dining of all kind in walking distance. By the way Peterinos on Dearborn offers valet parking with your dinner at a low fee.
To see what others are saying, visit wwwtheatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Motown the Musical”