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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 3, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 23
Motown The Musical - #1 with a bullet
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Motown The Musical - #1 with a bullet

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

MOTOWN THE MUSICAL
PARAMOUNT THEATRE
Through June 12


Motown. The name itself has become synonymous with classic music, rhythm & blues, and of course, some of the most influential pop hits in United States history. The record label introduced the world to such legends as Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Mary Wells, The Jackson Five, and the incredible Diana Ross & The Supremes. The man behind Motown is the incomparable genius of Berry Gordy; Motown The Musical is his story and is currently playing at the Paramount Theatre.

The musical Motown is more than the story of Berry Gordy, Jr.; it is also about the music that changed the world. Young Berry has been a jack-of-all-trades (including a boxer) before the chance meeting with the legendary Jackie Wilson. After presenting the singer with a song he wrote (the hit, 'Reet Petite') Berry breaks into the music business. Frustrated with the way his good friend Smokey Robinson and other African-American artists are being treated, Berry starts his own recording studio Hitsville, USA with his label (Motown) and begins to recruit talent. After such talents as Martha & the Vandellas, The Marvelettes, and Smokey Robinson, Berry comes across a trio of young girls calling themselves 'The Supremes.' After several unsuccessful recordings, the group finally gets a hit and launches the career of Diana Ross. The musical Motown continues with the (until recent years) secret romantic relationship between Berry Gordy and Diana Ross exploring the shared lives of these two strong Diva personalities. As each of Motown's talent becomes more popular, they one by one leave the Motown label for further career opportunities.

There is a plethora of talent in a musical like Motown, and it does not go without letting them shine. As each of Berry Gordy's discoveries is introduced, they get a moment (or longer) to sing one of their hit songs. Martina Sykes plays a 'Vandella' and the back up Supreme, Cindy Birdsong. When Ms. Sykes appears as Mary Wells (aka 'The Queen of Motown') she holds a perfect single note so long, she completely fills the auditorium on her own accord. Jesse Nager plays Smokey Robinson, the writer of such hits as 'My Guy' and 'You Beat Me to the Punch.' Mr. Nager continues his Broadway run as the legendary composer, impersonating Robinson's unique voice, and powerful vocals.

Without doubt it is Allison Semmes (playing Diana Ross) and especially Chester Gregory (Berry Gordy) that are the obvious leads of the show. It is easy to see why Ms. Semmes was cast in this role; she is the very facsimile of Diana Ross. From the moment she first appears, Ms. Semmes' impersonation is damned good! From the way she struts to the way she lounges on a chair, Ms. Semmes adds a nuance with the perfect mixture of soft voice, strong presence and Diva attitude that there is a reason they call her, Ms. Ross! Chester Gregory as Berry Gordy is the central character in this production. He brings a strong stage presence, a good voice, and a gregarious persona to the legendary music magnet. Mr. Gregory has no problems showing the rounded personality of Gordy, especially when it comes to his personal sense of family, business, loyalty and ethics.

There is no Motown without the music, and the music in this production is as much an essential character as anyone on stage. The classic songs are here: 'Better Shop Around,' 'My Guy,' 'My Gal,' 'Dancing in the Streets,' 'Baby Love,' as well as the later classics, 'Super Freak,' 'Brick House,' and 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough' that became part of the Motown songbook in the later years. Motown The Musical is the rare combination of musical revue and 'jukebox' musical that actually works. And it works very well.



Motown The Musical is based on the Berry Gordy autobiography, To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, The Memories of Motown. The show opened on Broadway in April 2013 and it is currently still running on the Great White Way. Motown The Musical was nominated for four 2013 Tony Awards, but was overlooked for a Best Musical nomination.

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