Having recently been nominated for eleven 2016 NAACP Theatre Awards, and winning four of them, “Motown the Musical” offers not only fantastic entertainment, but a journey teeming with historical and celebratory implications. The production, which opened its 2017 U.S. run on Tuesday, January 31st at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre, and will be playing there through February 12th, succeeds on the strength of the talented individuals and team players that have contributed to its fruition.
Assisted by arrangements and orchestrations of the highest caliber by Ethan Popp and Bryan Crook, in addition to choreography by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams, the Charles Randolph-Wright-directed extravaganza pays reverent homage to Berry Gordy, Motown founder and discoverer of some of the best musical talent of all time. Certainly, “Motown the Musical” is as accurately autobiographical as it can be since Gordy is also the book-writer and producing partner alongside Doug Morris and Kevin McCollum.
The musical traces Gordy’s ascension from a featherweight boxer to an influential impresario, who, just last year, was bestowed the National Medal of Arts by former President Barack Obama. Gordy, who established Motown in 1958, was a prominent leader in terms of both music and racial equity, casting a resplendently positive light on African American artists, many of whom (have) enjoyed illustrious careers because of him.
From Smokey Robinson, to Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and The Jackson 5, our conception of music — and the evolution of which has followed — would be entirely different and likely much worse off if not for Berry’s enterprising fortitude. As such, an array of classics like “ABC,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Baby Love,” “Dancing in the Street,” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Love is Here and Now You’re Gone,” “My Girl,” “Please Mr. Postman,” “Stop in the Name of Love,” “Super Freak,” and “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” would not have topped the charts as they did during their heyday, let alone still ring as recognizably as they do to those who revel in “Motown the Musical.”
The cast of 29 performers — including Chester Gregory as Berry Gordy, Allison Semmes as Diana Ross, David Kaverman as Smokey Robinson, and Jarran Muse as Marvin Gaye – are spectacular in their ability to revitalize a rich past by virtue of their singing and dancing artfulness. Throughout the approximately two-and-a-half-hour runtime, when more than 40 Motown hits are performed, the audience experiences seemingly first-hand in two acts how Gordy built an empire that started in Detroit and culminated in the City of Stars.
And perhaps it’s apropos, given the first stop of its 2017 U.S. tour is in Hollywood that, among other luminaries of that time period, Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson, 87 and 76, respectively, were on hand to be honored during curtain call on opening night (January 31st).