Short and Sweet critic for the day, Mike Latone of Barrington, draws upon his twenty-year career in the performing arts to review 'Motown the Musical' in an interview with Short and Sweet host, Diana Martinez of Broadway in Chicago. Latone used his experienced eye to gauge the audience's reactions. According to Latone, there was a "buzz in the audience you wouldn't believe -- I swear everybody was ready to jump up out of their chairs and start dancing."
See below for a review by Diana Martinez.
Motown the Musical is a testament to the power of the arts and music
I dare you to NOT feel great while watching Motown the Musical. It's more than a musical tribute, performed by a talented and energized cast of more than 40, covering a half-decade of over 60 number one hits. It's not just about a record label, or about Berry Gordy. It's about a revolution, driven by artists, music, and perseverance.
Gordy's contribution to the music industry is immeasurable and Motown the Musical is a tribute to his innate ability, to not only discover stars, but also to create stars. He wasn't like the record label producers of today who have hundreds of bands presented at their feet complete with produced albums and YouTube hits a-pre-packaged and primed to distribute. He discovered the talent, created the hits, nurtured the artists and built the audience. The high point of the conflict is best depicted in a scene where officers on stage shout out to the audience to "sit on your own sides," while images of historical signs marked with prejudice, designating seating for "whites and colored" and KKK threats flash in the background. The tension comes to a climax when a performer is shot on stage. But, this is when Gordy and the Motown sound press on and perfect the definition of "the cross-over act." Stars like Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5, and dozens of others became mainstream sensations, topping chart after chart by 1968.
The show begins in the 1950s, and travels through Martin Luther King's death, the Kennedy assassination and Vietnam War. This culminates in one of the most soulful and touching moments of the show: Marvin Gaye performing "What's Going On" as a reflection of the sorrows and frustrations of society. More importantly the show explains the impact that Motown and its music had during the civil rights movement. These singers were on the front lines, building bridges and helping unite a country that was divided. It powerfully shows how the arts and music can transcend barriers and cultural differences. Barry's success culminated in an institution that delivered the music of several generations.
Telsey + Company couldn't have done a better job casting this show. It's not easy to find performers who can deliver a song like a star, but to find a stable of them that also look like these legendary icons, with dancing skills to boot, is nothing short of a miracle. The cast features all your favorites: Marvin Gaye is beautifully portrayed by the soulful Jarran Muse while powerhouse Elijah Ahmad Lewis stands out as Stevie Wonder. The beautifully poised Allison Semmes does a wonderful job capturing the innocence of a young Diana Ross. The audience's enthusiasm for a young Michael Jackson, a role alternated between Reed Shannon and Leon Outlaw, Jr. was uncontainable. Nicholas Christopher also stood out as Smokey Robinson (the real Smokey, was actually in the audience on opening night).
From a technical standpoint, the show is strong and smooth. The Gorgeous costumes are designed by Esosa, who beautifully depicts the fashion of the 50's through the 70's with excellent color choices. The set is based on a lit framing system that flies and slides through each scene of the fast-paced show. The lighting and sound designers should be given a medal, there are so many songs and singers to mix and the pace is so brisk, yet they magically enhance each electrifying moment giving energy and style and excitement to each of the songs represented in the show. I feel lucky to have seen this spectacular production and hope you will too.
Motown the Musical is kicking off its national tour here in Chicago through August 9 only at the Oriental Theatre. The shows two hours and forty-five minutes with an intermission. For tickets, visit www.broadwayinchicago.com.