The aptly named Motown the Musical, tells the story of Motown Records and its founder Berry Gordy. The show spans 25 years, is filled with 58 songs (although shortened versions of them), and the characters that fill the show are the familiar musical stars of the 60s, 70s, and 80s; Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross and so many more. If this sounds like a lot to fit in a show you aren't wrong, the show is jam packed. The 25 years in which the show took place saw so much, both musically and culturally as well as politically. I am sure that a two and a half hour show covering just one of the years depicted in this musical would be fascinating to watch. Because the show covers so much time it skims over the important political events of the time, the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam War, while still acknowledging that they were important to the music being created.
But the show is called Motown for a reason, it gives a great history of Motown, how it started, built from not much more than an abundance of talent and a desire to be successful and how in the end it started to fail. The music of Motown is something that permeates our popular culture so completely, it is inspiring to see the shear will power of Berry Gordy and how he built the record company with $1000 from his family's emergency savings fund.
The show is also a joy to watch. There is a reason that the music of Berry Gordy and Motown has become so successful. It is music that is filled with life and joy and when sung by talented actors in beautiful costumes you can't go wrong. I can't emphasize enough how talented the entire cast is. Chester Gregory as Berry Gordy is full of energy, drive, charm, and has a gorgeous voice. Allison Semmes truly enters the role of Diana Ross and even got an entire audience of Minnesotans to take hands with strangers and sing. David Kaverman as Smokey Robinson is smooth and plays wonderfully off of Gregory's Gordy. Jarran Muse makes us feel the desperation that Marvin Gaye felt in the political upheaval of the 60s and 70s, and also showed off his wide vocal range. Lastly Raymond Davis Jr. and CJ Wright, in the role of Young Berry Gordy/Stevie Wonder/Michael Jackson, they perform on alternating nights (I saw Raymond Davis Jr.), deliver what is possibly the biggest showstopper in the show as a young Michael Jackson. The amount of talent, vocal control and power in such a young performer is astonishing.
Motown the Musical will make you smile, and do a little bit of seat dancing. It is a very fun night at the theater, and if you are like me, the show will teach you more about the music you have heard all your life but never really knew where it came from. The national tour is playing at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Minneapolis until Sunday, June 16th.
*Photo by Joan Marcus