Review: “Chicago Meets Motown” at the Town Hall

Anthony J. Piccione

  • New York Theatre Critic

I generally consider myself someone who has an appreciation of live music, in general. I always love discovering new musicians and bands from the current era, but also to learn more about and listen to artists from past generations who were before my time. So despite being a Millennial, and despite the stereotypes that I feel some people might have for people in my age range, I found myself being able to easily appreciate “Chicago Meets Motown”, the joint tribute music act that recently played at Broadway’s Town Hall this past week.

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“That Motown Band” was the first of two musical acts to take the stage, on that night. The band itself does an excellent job at jamming out to various past Motown tunes – ranging from the Supremes to the Temptations to the Jackson 5 – but while Nathina Inez and Natasha Nadia McDuffie are both respectable singer, I can’t help but think the band would be stronger with a different lead vocalist than Chris Shaljian at front and center, even if the overall band was a decent tribute act. The main highlight of this act was when Grammy nominated singer Ryan Shaw was brought out as the band’s musical guest. Thankfully, his voice was more soulful than the band’s bland lead singer, and his portion of the evening left the audience thoroughly entertained, in particular.

Then, after an intermission and a brief commercial for the Center for Discovery – the charity organization the production is supporting – came “Beginnings”, widely described as the best Chicago tribute band around. I admit, I’m generally not too big a fan of tribute bands, since I feel all they do is rehash the hits of other artists without anything new involved, and it probably didn’t help that I’m not of the generation that grew up with the music of the band Chicago. Nonetheless, I recognize talent when I see it, even when the specific act isn’t something I’d normally pay to see. Lead singer Mason Swearingen delivers each song with strong, high-ranging vocals, while the rest of the band – which included guitarist Johnny Roggio, keyboardist Scott Chasolen, and drummer Chris Milillo – seamlessly switches from varying classic rock hits from the years, and performs it with a vigor and energy that left audience members moving and singing along, and I suspect would likely make the original band proud.

Overall, this was the type of event that is bound to be appealing to a demographic that is, well…a bit older than this reviewer. (Although that’s not to say that there aren’t music fans of any age that can appreciate it!) The nostalgia for the music of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s is bound to be a factor that would make it particularly enjoyable for potential audience members, and the fact that the bands do a (mostly) superb job at performing the songs makes it worth it for such theatergoers whom may have such nostalgic feelings. While this only ran for one-night here in NYC, those in other areas should keep these respective acts in mind, if it’s their cup of tea, when they’re in your area…

“Chicago Meets Motown” – presented by Preemo Productions – ran for one-night only at the Town Hall on June 28th.