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 legendaryÂ 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 beÂ 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.
We follow Berry as he grows up, creating Hitsville then Motown, as he and his friends Smokey Robinson (beautifully done by Jesse Nager) andÂ Marvin Gaye (a very sexy Jarran Muse -Â 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.
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!Â
“Directed byÂ Charles Randolph-Wright, resident playwright at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater,Â MotownÂ The MusicalÂ is the true American dream story ofÂ MotownÂ founder Berry Gordyâ€™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 40Â classic hits such as â€œMy Girlâ€ and â€œAinâ€™t No Mountain High Enough,â€Â MotownÂ The MusicalÂ tells the story behind the hits as Diana, Smokey, Berry and the wholeÂ MotownÂ family fight against the odds to create the soundtrack of change in America.Â Motownshattered barriers, shaped our lives, and made us all move to the same beat.
MotownÂ The MusicalÂ features choreography byÂ Patricia WilcoxÂ (A Night with Janis Joplin) andÂ Warren AdamsÂ (Toy Story), scenic design byÂ David KorinsÂ (Bring It On: The Musical,Â Annie), costume design by Tony AwardÂ®Â nomineeÂ ESosaÂ (The Gershwinsâ€™ Porgy and Bess, â€œProject Runwayâ€), lighting design by Tony AwardÂ®Â winnerÂ Natasha KatzÂ (Once,Â Sister Act), sound design by Tony AwardÂ®Â nomineeÂ Peter HylenskiÂ (Rock of Ages,Â The Scottsboro Boys), projection design byÂ Daniel BrodieÂ (Jekyll and Hyde), hair and wig design byÂ Charles LaPointeÂ (Memphis), and casting byÂ Telsey + Company.
MotownÂ The Musicalâ€™s arrangements and orchestrations are by Grammy andÂ Tony AwardÂ® nomineeÂ Ethan PoppÂ (Rock of Ages), who also serves as music supervisor in reproducing the classic â€œSound of Young America,â€ with co-orchestrations and additional arrangements by Tony AwardÂ®Â nomineeÂ Bryan CrookÂ (â€œSmashâ€), and dance arrangements byÂ Zane MarkÂ (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels).
MotownÂ The MusicalÂ is produced by Tony AwardÂ®Â winning producerÂ Kevin McCollumÂ (Rent,Â In the Heights,Â Avenue Q), Chairman and CEO of SONY Music EntertainmentÂ Doug Morris, andÂ MotownÂ founderÂ 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 atÂ TheNationalDC.com, or by callingÂ (800) 514-3849.Â A day-of-performance lottery for a limited number of best available seats at $25 each â€“ cash only â€“ will be held at the theater two hours before each performance.Â Orders for groups of 10 or more may be placed by callingÂ (202) 628-6161 ext. 227. For more information, callÂ (202) 628-6161Â or visitÂ TheNationalDC.com.