Motown The Musical – Review

Broadway's hit Motown The Musical is at ATTPAC's Winspear through August 16th.  Based on Berry Gordy's book, "To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, The Memories of Motown By Berry Gordy" and featuring the legendary Motown catalog supervised and arranged by Ethan Popp and Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright, this is the must see show of the summer.  Click through for my review and a special breakdown of the musical by Berry himself.

Act 1 of this non-stop joy ride through the history of Motown might be the most exciting act I've seen on the Winspear stage to date.  The Musical literally opens with a battle royale that immediately brings you into the incredible catalog that was built over 25 glorious years.  The setting is the 25th Anniversary special for Motown with one significant missing guest, the creator of all this magic isn't there.  Berry Gordy is at home in Pasadena and not wanting to go to this star studded affair.  In his eyes those 25 glorious years were also tumultuous and filled with heartbreak, sorrow and death.  But Motown the Musical doesn't linger on the sorrow and pain.  Instead Act 1 takes us on a 30 year journey through time.  We see the world that Berry Gordy group up in and fought his way through to becoming the legendary music man.  From the eve of WWII to the assassination of MLK Jr. we get to witness the rise of Hitsville USA into a national sensation and then a worldwide phenomena.

For our Dallas audiences the cast is quite amazing.  The three lead performances are Josh Tower as our Berry Gordy, Allison Semmes as Diana Ross and Jesse Nager as Smokey Robinson. Mr. Tower mixes in the bravado of the legendary Mr. Gordy with a nice soulful touch that lingers throughout the show.  His best scenes work best off his "black", Diana Ross and his best buddy Smokey.  But he also is quite powerful battling with Jarran Muse (Marvin Gaye) and also off his white friends.  Mr. Nager hits that famous Smokey high voice every time and his sense of humor is spot on.  The humor that comes from the Smokey character is easily one of the three highlights of the show.  It's not only Berry's journey but very much Smokey's rise that makes Motown The Musical shine.   Act 1 never takes a breath as we travel the years being introduced to so many of the grand figures that would become icons.  There are some interesting figures not mentioned or left aside do to time, but overall we get to touch on all the main singers, agents and moguls of the time.  Doug Storm is especially wonderful to watch as he transforms from Shelly Berger to Ed Sullivan throughout the performance.  Jarran Muse's Marvin is nicely introduced as the "boyfriend" but his transformation is another of the real highlights of the show.  Watching the clothing changes across the decades is a real key element of the time lapse effect the show has.  Marvin Gaye especially is a character to watch as his style completely molds itself to the decade he is in.  Now the infamous battles between Marvin and Berry are nicely handled though the tragic nature of their feud is given just one haunting line from Berry to Marvin.  That line like so many important moments in the lives of these famous figures are not merely throw away moments, but really pull at your heart strings.  I took my father to the production and that line about Marvin's daddy caused us to both give a quick serious look at each other.  But the show must go on and Motown the Musical doesn't linger on the sorrowful elements it's about the incredible legacy that is now apart of so many of our lives.  The music is the most important part.  Three key singers that really shine in this production are:

Jarvis B. Manning Jr. is utterly electric as Jackie Wilson & Rick James.  His moves, his sultry voice and his cocky nature elicit some of the loudest screams from the audience.  Flat out Jarvis is captivating to watch as he glides across the Winspear stage. He completely stood out from everyone else when he was on stage. 

For the ladies in the show Allison Semmes is so pivotal in the story that she easily steals the show as Diana Ross.  In the Second Act she has a moment to come out into the audience and this part was downright amazing.  It felt so realistic for this moment to happen and Allison is endearing, sexy and most importantly tenacious.  But don't miss the incredible voice of Martina Sykes who plays Gwen Gordy, Vandella & Cindy Birdsong but it's her take on Mary Wells that is the real stand out song of the evening.  She belts out Mary's iconic voice with such a strong will and determination I thought she might get a standing ovation.  Melanie Evans also has some great moments, especially as Teena Marie. 

Nathaniel Cullors is the real star of the show though!   He is our young Berry and our young Stevie which are both short and sweet moments in the show, BUT it's his final incarnation that brought the house down.  His Michael Jackson is the standout of Act 2 and his four sequences are mesmerizing.  A role that showcases the dance ability, the singing voice, the youthful charm and even the kind hearted nature for such a young talent to pull it all off is just incredible.  Trust me, you'll all be talking about how amazing that young fella playing Michael Jackson was in the show.

Overall the show is filled with so much talent and the songs never seem to end.  Act I really shines the brightest because of it's non-stop nature.  The stage has a great visual identifier with it's unique tiers and the structures of the buildings light-up throughout the show.  The stage itself is a wonderful character that helps showcase the time, the location and the power of each moment. Though the second act does seem a bit long winded seeing all the major stars is worth the time invested.  The show doesn't just end flatly it literally keeps on with the singing and dancing as you get to join in on the magic.  Motown the Musical is a real treasure to witness and the one major must see show this summer.  Don't miss the journey of Berry Gordy and all his wonderful friends.  For more information on the show and to get tickets go, here.

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