You Will Be Dancing in the Streets after Seeing “Motown The Musical” at National Theatre

Diana Ross and the Supremes
Allison Semmes as Supremes front woman Diana Ross

You will not be able to help yourself from moving and grooving to every sensational number sung and danced (even if abbreviated) at “Motown The Musical” which is being played at National Theatre now through January 3rd. As someone who didn’t have a clear understanding of the history behind legendary Berry Gordy and the entity of Motown (duh, Motor Town, Detroit, Pamela!) this non-stop action musical provides the story as told by the founder himself (based on the book “To Be Loved: The Music The Magic, The Memories of Motown” by Berry Gordy), who by the way, happened to be in the audience on opening night, then later was brought up on stage to say a few words and show off his own dance abilities.

The book was written to clear up the multiple rumors and confusion which swirled around the artists, management, money and scandal, but there’s nothing better then turning a book based on music and entertainment, into music and entertainment. Starring Josh Tower as Berry and Allison Semmes as Diana Rose (she blows away the entire audience with her aura and pure channeling of Diana Ross-movements, speaking and singing voice), this “story behind the music/love story/dream turned reality-turned nightmare-turned remarkable history” starts in 1983 at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium where rehearsal is going strong for the 25th anniversary of Motown which will be televised. Famed groups are challenging each other with song and dance and it’s quite funny, but what we love is the precision of how perfectly each ensemble actor is able to be each one that they are acting as. Then swiftly we are transported to Berry’s living room at his house in L.A. – he’s arguing his case for not attending the anniversary. It’s too hard for him to handle, they, these artists that he made, were his friends, but he believes that because they moved on, they betrayed him, his dream. With that we flashback to 1938 in the Detroit Gordy family home, where he realizes his dream to be big after being inspired by the boxing match between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling. Jarran Muse as Marvin Gaye

We follow Berry as he grows up, creating Hitsville then Motown, as he and his friends Smokey Robinson (beautifully done by Jesse Nager) and Marvin Gaye (a very sexy Jarran Muse - above) deal with racism which ran rampant in the country, competition, creating popular hits, show business, management, producing, radio, and money, the messiness of making money as a pioneer in the industry. Head on, he faces war, poverty, racism, and even love, as he falls in love with Diana and has to facilitate between professional not getting in the way of personal and vice versa.

Critics of the show claim Motown The Musical is too much of fast and quick flash numbers and clearly from Berry’s point of view, but that’s ok. If you want to soak in the story from a 30,000 foot view and be reminded of how beautiful and fun the music is, then this is the show for you. It’s fast paced, and may leave you whirling and wondering, but just sit back and enjoy the talented performers as they belt out some of the best songs ever made and which also served and continue to, as inspiration for a plethora of modern day artists and groups. There’s plenty of adult humor as well.

The Jackson Five performs ABC
One of my favorite parts of “Motown The Musical” – Michael and the Jackson Five

My two favorite parts are young Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five. Leon Outlaw, Jr. is young Michael Jackson. I could have watched and listened to him for hours. Also, when Diana Ross comes out and engages the audience during her Vegas stint, it’s just hilarious and campy.

With over 50 Motown songs performed with energy and passion, you will again, be moving and grooving in your seat, then at the end (no worries, no spoiler alert!). Oh, one other thing, the Ensemble should be truly applauded as each played multiple characters throughout the entire show never losing energy nor form. Bravo! 

“Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright, resident playwright at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, Motown The Musical is the true American dream story of Motown founder Berry Gordy’s journey from featherweight boxer to the heavyweight music mogul who launched the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, and so many more.

Featuring more than 40 classic hits such as “My Girl” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” Motown The Musical tells the story behind the hits as Diana, Smokey, Berry and the whole Motown family fight against the odds to create the soundtrack of change in America. Motownshattered barriers, shaped our lives, and made us all move to the same beat.

Motown The Musical features choreography by Patricia Wilcox (A Night with Janis Joplin) and Warren Adams (Toy Story), scenic design by David Korins (Bring It On: The Musical, Annie), costume design by Tony Award® nominee ESosa (The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, “Project Runway”), lighting design by Tony Award® winner Natasha Katz (Once, Sister Act), sound design by Tony Award® nominee Peter Hylenski (Rock of Ages, The Scottsboro Boys), projection design by Daniel Brodie (Jekyll and Hyde), hair and wig design by Charles LaPointe (Memphis), and casting by Telsey + Company.

Motown The Musical’s arrangements and orchestrations are by Grammy and Tony Award® nominee Ethan Popp (Rock of Ages), who also serves as music supervisor in reproducing the classic “Sound of Young America,” with co-orchestrations and additional arrangements by Tony Award® nominee Bryan Crook (“Smash”), and dance arrangements by Zane Mark (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels).

Motown The Musical is produced by Tony Award® winning producer Kevin McCollum (Rent, In the Heights, Avenue Q), Chairman and CEO of SONY Music Entertainment Doug Morris, and Motown founder Berry Gordy.”

Tickets are on sale now and start at $48 plus applicable service charges. Tickets are available at the National Theatre box office, online at TheNationalDC.com, or by calling (800) 514-3849. A day-of-performance lottery for a limited number of best available seats at $25 each – cash only – will be held at the theater two hours before each performance. Orders for groups of 10 or more may be placed by calling (202) 628-6161 ext. 227. For more information, call (202) 628-6161 or visit TheNationalDC.com.

For more information, visit TheNationalDC.com or MotownTheMusical.com. #NTMotown @NatTheatreDC

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