I’m not going to lie to you. I’m probably the least qualified person to take on the task of reviewing Motown the Musical. I was born decades after the Motown era. While some of these classic songs are familiar to me (thanks to a childhood filled with my father’s “oldies” records), they were never really ingrained in my musical taste. Speaking of my father, it was because of him that I ended up in the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre last weekend. I invited him to accompany me on a NYC day trip and I told him I would get tickets to any new Broadway show- his choice. He picked Motown.
So although I may not be the most qualified reviewer, I would like to say a few words in support of the show simply because it far exceeded my expectations. Despite the fact that I knew nothing about Motown and only recognized about 25 percent of the music, I really did enjoy the performance.
Synopsis: Motown the Musical chronicles the career of Mr. Berry Gordy, founder of the Motown record label. Motown boasted the talents of Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Jackson Five, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, and Stevie Wonder. The musical essentially portrays three main events in the career of Berry Gordy between 1938 and 1983: his founding of the record label including his family’s financial support; his relationship with Diana Ross; and the loss of many key artists to larger record labels and his ultimate decision to sell the company.
Comments: For me, Motown was actually reminiscent of Million Dollar Quartet in that both musicals represented the struggle of smaller record labels to compete with larger companies. Many great artists got their big breaks from smaller record labels, only to later leave the label for the offer of more money from a larger company. From a financial perspective, the smaller labels simply could not compete with the larger labels. However, both Million Dollar Quartet and Motown portray the indelible role of these labels in history. In particular, Motown recognizes the record label’s role in civil rights.
As book writer and producer, Berry Gordy integrates sixty songs into his life story pretty seamlessly. As I mentioned earlier, the plot is quite simple and mainly covers the start of Motown, Gordy’s relationship with Diana Ross, and his decision to sell Motown after many artists move on to larger record labels. Though simple and straightforward, the book is injected with familiar, humorous inferences.
The music was, of course, the big audience pleaser. If you see Motown, expect the audience to be singing along with these popular covers. Expect to feel like you’re at a Diana Ross concert. And if you’re sitting in the front row, expect to get onstage and sing with Diana Ross (aka Tony nominated Valisia LeKae). Motown is not your typical Broadway musical.
There are many things to enjoy at Motown the Musical. The spot-on acting/impersonation, the familiar music, the choreography. I think I appreciated the historical significance of Motown most of all and I’m glad that Berry Gordy has the chance to share his story with Broadway audiences.