Kevin McCollum, Doug Morris, and Berry Gordy
(Motown The Musical Website)
Book by Berry Gordy
Music & Lyrics from The Legendary Motown Catalog
Starring: Brandon Victor Dixon
Valisia LeKae, Charl Brown, Bryan Terrell Clark
Raymond Luke, Jr.
And an Ensemble of Actors/Singers/Dancers
Directed by: Charles Randolph-Wright
Choreography by Patricia Wilcox & Warren Adams
Music Supervision & Arrangements: Ethan Popp
205 West 46th Street
Scenic Design: David Korins
Costume Design: Esosa
Lighting Design: Natasha Katz
Sound Design: Peter Hylenski
Projection Design: Daniel Brodie
Orchestrations: Ethan Popp & Bryan Crook
Music Director/Conductor: Joseph Joubert
Music Coordinator: Michael Keller
Dance Music Arrangements: Zane Mark
Casting: Telsey + Company
Bethany Knox, CSA
Hair & Wig Design: Charles G. LaPointe
Production Stage Manager: Julia P. Jones
Technical Supervisor: David Benken
Executive Producer: Nina Lannan
Advertising & Marketing: SpotCo
General Management: Bespoke Theatricals
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 17, 2013
I kept wishing that Motown The Musical, created by Berry Gordy about his Motown music legacy, based on his “…Memories of Motown” autobiography, had been styled as a Tribute show, like Rain, the Beatles Tribute show, with its superb documentary videos and music in sequential time-sequence. For this writer, I was lucky that my guest was a Motown aficionado, because, although I was familiar with a majority of the songs, I was unfamiliar with the history and relationships of the multiple groups enacted in dizzying fashion. These included The Supremes, Smokey Robinson (a sizzling Charl Brown), Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, The Jackson Five with little Michael, Marvin Gaye (a vibrantly talented Bryan Terrell Clark), and an ensemble of many dozens of characters coming and going in eighteen scenes. Charles Randolph-Wright, Director, had quite a challenging feat to keep all the characters and backup bands and choruses straight, in the 1983 present to 1938 origin, and then sequentially back to 1983 vignettes. The cast traveled from Los Angeles to Detroit, New York, England, Paris, Hollywood, and back to Pasadena, performing about 60 songs, all in one show!
A clear Tribute show could have organized and musically presented, with stunning real-life videos and related choreography, informative groupings of Mr. Gordy’s Motown experience, without the unnecessary sitcom dramas. For touring or re-staging in the future, a fraction of this cast would work, even on a small stage, with Motown highlights only. Having described this writer’s wish, suffice it to say the audience still was in musical heaven. For the aficionados, clapping and occasionally joining in with “Dancing In the Street”, “Please, Mr. Postman”, “Baby I Need Your Lovin’”, “My Girl”, “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me”, and the favorite, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, among dozens more crowd-pleasers, the show was pure joy. I did hear audience comments, trying to piece the history to characters, but Motown The Musical is a feel-good Broadway experience.
The musical’s structure begins in 1983, with Gordy played by Brandon Victor Dixon, who acts, sings, and dances with exuberance mixed with pathos, as he’s faced with a television special about his influence on musical culture and Motown. Flashbacks ensue, with harmonic lightning, as various musical stars appear, are hired, quit, sue, sing, and even become lovers. Diana Ross, played by a velvety and fiery Valisia LeKae, has stage and bedroom scenes with Gordy that would have been better with less stage clutter. This relationship, which morphed into Ross’ choosing to go solo, deserves its own show, minus the eighteen scenes. Another spotlighted sequence that deserves its own show was little Michael Jackson, played by Raymond Luke, Jr., who danced with mesmerizing, spinning, smooth similarity to his iconic character. Raymond also played young Gordy and young Stevie Wonder, with Ryan Shaw playing the older pop icon. With each of the 29 ensemble members playing up to four characters each, even a Motown aficionado would need to see this show twice to keep track.
David Korins created the shifting, busy stage scenery, and Esosa created the shimmering costumes. Daniel Brodie’s projection design seemed lost in this visual mosaic, but Natasha Katz’ lighting and Peter Hylenski’s sound helped the eye and ear focus on the mayhem. Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams designed the choreography that did energetically enhance the showcased numbers, and Ethan Popp kept the arrangements and music supervision silky and scintillating. If this show doesn’t bring back the vinyl, I don’t know what will.