If the hit 2013 Broadway show "Motown The Musical" gets adapted for the screen, it had better be a miniseries.
That's because "Motown The Musical," now launching a national tour at Chicago's Oriental Theatre, proves that one show isn't enough to properly encompass the cultural significance of the African-American-owned record label that launched from Detroit in 1959.
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Location: Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com
Showtimes: Schedule varies, but largely 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday and Wednesday; through Aug. 9
Running time: About two hours, 40 minutes, with intermission
Parking: Nearby pay parking garages and metered street parking
Rating: Some adult language and sexuality
Motown Records founder and songwriter Berry Gordy gave his official stamp of approval to "Motown The Musical" as both a producer and the book writer. And in setting his story against a backdrop of glorious hits, Gordy deserves a theatrical victory lap to remind audiences of his initial business savvy at finding and shaping raw talent to become barrier-breaking pop artists.
Yet "Motown The Musical" only scratches the surface of the artists' backgrounds and challenges. Florence Ballard's girl group banishment from The Supremes, for example, is dealt with in a drama-sapped fashion. And many characters are sketchily drawn or sanitized in the script, leaving the audience's knowledge of the artists to fill in the blanks. In this respect, "Motown The Musical" is almost all surface gloss with much of the underlying grit removed.
But, oh, what fabulous gloss.
"Motown The Musical" aims to dazzle. Audiences will be worked up into a nostalgic frenzy throughout the show, which never skimps on talent or visual flash to showcase the song hits that made up the soundtrack to so many lives from the 1950s through the 1980s.
The entire versatile performing ensemble is in constant motion, switching guises and group affiliations in a hit parade of songs popularized by the likes of Smokey Robinson (Nicholas Christopher), Marvin Gaye (Jarran Muse) and a young Michael Jackson (Reed L. Shannon on opening night). Under director Charles Randolph-Wright and conductor Darryl Archibald, the cast replicates that classic Motown sound with plenty of verve and performance panache -- so much so that many performers receive shout-outs as if they were the real thing.
Helping to hold everything together is Clifton Oliver as an extremely engaging and likable Berry Gordy. Oliver is paired nicely with the vocal and stunning vision that is Chicago native Allison Semmes, who has all the proper allure and élan to portray Diana Ross, Gordy's main musical muse.
"Motown The Musical" offers an embarrassment of riches when it comes to classic pop hits. But even if this bursting-at-the-seams musical can't provide proper context to them all, there's certainly enough to satisfy a nostalgia-hungry audience.