The lack of performing a song in its entirety, or without it being interrupted by dialogue, is annoying and distracting. This has always been one of my problems with juke box musicals; they do the original material a disservice by using it in this manner. But perhaps this style suits today’s distracted, attention deficient audience.
The night I saw Motown, the audience went crazy any time a familiar song (and there were a lot of them) or a favorite Motown singer were introduced. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it myself at times, even if the musical numbers came at me like shrapnel — shards of this song and that.
What made it enjoyable for me were the performers. Bandon Victor Dixon as Berry Gordy has charm and a thrilling singing voice. As on-again-off-again girlfriend Diana Ross, Valisia LeKae exactingly creates Ms. Ross’s sing-song speaking cadence and she nails the vocals. As young Michael Jackson, young Berry Gordy, and young Stevie Wonder, Raymond Luke, Jr. was on fire as he roused the crowd while belting out some of the Jackson 5’s most notable tunes like “ABC” and “I’ll Be There.” Charl Brown was a smooth Smokey Robinson, Gordy’s right-hand man. Bryan Terrell Clark was solid as the socially active Marvin Gaye. Saycon Sengloh gave us an inspired Martha Reeves.
The entire company consists of fine singers who were able to take the choreography by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams and make every toe touch and finger snap in perfect unison while creating tight vocals. The script by Barry Gordy consists of scenes that connect periods of time together. All the while interrupting a song to tell us something not terribly deep about any of the characters. I will say this, Gordy didn’t completely whitewash himself with his script. Past troubled relationships with some of his artists and artists jumping to other labels are all in there.
The beautiful costume design by Esosa evocatively create the costumes that cover a period from 1938 to 1983. The scenic design by David Korins has created a minimal set that utilizes a shutter effect using portals that move in and out vertically and horizontally to frame a scene. He also cleverly incorporates a lift that is able to follow the opening in the portal horizontally and vertically so a scene or song can take place as the portal travels.
The show is stitched together by director Charles Randolph-Wright but isn’t given much to work with considering Gordy’s script.
If you love Motown and don’t mind truncated versions of the original songs, by all means go see Motown the Musical, the talent won’t disappoint. Just be forewarned, Motown the Musical provides a tasting of Motown, a juke box flip book musical tapas, if you will.