Review: 'Motown: The Musical' National Tour

John Garcia

Motown: The Musical (MTM) is from that never ending conveyor belt of jukebox musicals that keeps churning them out like a factory onto Broadway. Only a few jukebox musicals have achieved that rare feat of becoming both an artistic and financial success. Some receive critical approval, but lackluster box office. Or they hit the mother load with the money pouring in, but the critics rake them over the coals. This genre of musical theater definitely does produce heated discussions whether they are truly “original” musicals or not. They do have their fair share of supporters and detractors. 

MTM premiered on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in April 2013, where it was met with lukewarm critical response from the New York press. The musical itself is stuffed with over 50 songs from Motown’s illustrious canon of Platinum and Gold hits. MTM was a modest hit with 738 performances before closing in January 2015. But it did receive four Tony nominations, but not for best musical. There is still talk of the show to head across the ocean to the West End in 2016. There are also rumors circulating around the Rialto that the musical will return back to Broadway next year.

The musical’s book is based on Berry Gordy’s 1994 autobiography- To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, and the Memories of Motown. It is Gordy in fact who penned the musical’s book. If you know your R&B history, then you know that Gordy was the creator, founder, and the master mind behind Hitsville U.S.A., a title that Motown was crowned with due to its unparalleled success in churning out hit after hit from some of the greatest artists of Soul, Pop, Rhythm and Blues. Motown also discovered their very own unique sound that no other record company could duplicate. This musical uses for its majority of its score a plethora of Motown’s classic hits. The birth for its name came from their hometown, Detroit; back in 1959 that city was the mecca for car manufacturing. Thus Gordy put Motor and Town together to create his record company’s name, Motown. Gordy’s record company signed onto its roster a pantheon of some of the greatest artists of music: Diana Ross & the Supremes, Michael Jackson & the Jackson Five, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight, the commodores, Rick James, and on and on.

AT&T Performing Arts Center has brought to the Winspear Opera House this jukebox musical’s national tour to begin its run here on Wednesday evening and running through August 16.

If there is one major element that can make a jukebox musical work with the use of published, well known songs is how to make them fit into a cohesive story with finely defined, fleshed out characters that possess a believable arc both in subtext and emotion. The music has to fit smoothly and with conviction into the book so that the audience will “think” that these well-known songs were actually composed for that particular musical. Unfortunately Motown’s book is like Donald Trump’s hair, stiff and paper thin. You get a sense that Gordy and his production team tried with all their might to shove as many songs from the Motown catalogue into the prosaic book. Characters appear oh so briefly on stage and then vanish, or they make cameos then disappear in a split second for the reminder of the night. Many of the songs are done in concert form. They are sung in the recording studio, at auditions, concerts, TV shows, and so on. Many of the songs are not sung from beginning to end. Instead we get a verse or two, or just a hint of the chorus of a song, and that’s it. While the songs are legendary, many simply do not fit into the confines within the muted book. To create dramatic structure Gordy brings in racial conflicts and the Vietnam War. Yes, they are moving to see unfold onstage, but by desperately trying to connect these issues to Motown’s history making chart hits, it creates a clunky, cluttered, and pabulum book.

To make matters worse, Gordy sugar coats his personal life avoiding some major issues within his musical book. He had three marriages and eight children. He was actually still married when he had the affair with Diana Ross. There is no mention of his mistresses or girlfriends. From all these relationships he bore children. The public did not officially know that Ross’s daughter Rhonda is Gordy’s own daughter till years later.

It is Motown legend the artistic wars that Gordy had with his stars and composers. They could not handle his Machiavellian power over their music, art, image, and careers while under contract. Many books have been written about this. I still vividly remember when the Jacksons and Ross left Motown. The press was all over that. While it is brought up in the in the stage version, it feels like an afterthought, not completely fleshed out. Gordy’s book fails to truly capture the very public and ugly battles between himself and his megastars.

On stage there are a couple of scenes regarding Gordy’s masterminding and creating a film career for his muse Diana Ross. There are a couple of brief scenes dealing with the film Lady Sings the Blues, a film about Billie Holiday, which earned Ross her only Oscar nomination (she lost the statuette to Liza Minnelli in Cabaret). But Gordy’s stage book never mentions the mega flop The Wiz. This was a $24 million dollar film based on the hit musical that flopped loudly at the box office. Many could not believe that Gordy and director Sidney Lumet thought that Ross could actually play Dorothy (she was in her mid-30s when the film was made). In fact Ross fought hard to play the role. Gordy and Universal Pictures lost a ton of money producing the film. 

Gordy’s stage book also quickly rushes over the firing of Florence Ballard, one of the original Supremes. The musical Dreamgirls (which everyone knows is about Ross, the Supremes, and Barry Gordy) used this to great dramatic effect in the role of Effie White (AKA Florence Ballard). In the Motown musical Gordy’s book rapidly passes through this dramatic firing. I so was hoping the stage musical would go into much fuller detail to see Gordy’s personal point of view regarding Ballard and her being fired. Ballard actually sued Gordy and Motown (and won). Gordy should have written a scene involving Ballard’s firing, and then give her a song from the Motown canon to sing regarding her dramatic departure. 

The musical begins and ends with the infamous Motown 25th Anniversary TV special. Many of Motown’s illustrious roster of stars appeared on the telecast. It also reunited the Jacksons. By that time Michael Jackson had left his brothers and was now a solo artist who achieved mega success with his albums Off the Wall and Thriller. It has been heavily documented that Michael wanted no part of the TV special. But his parents, brothers, and others were pushing him hard to appear on the telecast. He agreed on one condition, in that he would be allowed to sing alone on stage one his current hits from Thriller. Mind you, he recorded these two solo albums without Gordy and on the Epic label. After much heated debate, it was agreed. And all that everyone can remember from that telecast is Jackson’s legendary performance of “Billie Jean” and showing the world for the first time his moonwalk dance. So it was quite puzzling and perplexing that at the end of the stage musical, there are no Jacksons and no adult Michael Jackson in his black sequined jacket and white rhinestone glove appearing with the rest of the stars on the telecast finale with everyone singing together.

All of these dramatic artistic moments of Gordy’s battles should have been fully explored within the book for his stage musical. To make the emotion have an authentic arc, you had to show warts and all, the good and bad of Gordy’s professional and personal life to truly work here.

What does make the musical work is the music. It is an incredible, dazzling, and wondrous trip down memory lane when so many of Motown’s biggest hits are sung on stage. Every number was met with ear splitting thunderous applause, whistles, and screams from Wednesday’s audience. You just savor all that fantastic music from so many of Motown’s artists that made them legendary hits. Song and song it was like a banquet table buckling under the weight of all those mega hits. You just couldn’t get enough of them. That is what makes this musical so spectacular and heart pumping thrilling, is the music.

This national tour is loaded with some of the most lavish, soulful, and vocally powerful singing that had ever graced the Winspear stage. These magnificent vocals ebb from the artists on stage into the audience. It was hair raising, bone chilling vocal finesse. The vocal riffs, the roaring of belting with such force, the lush harmonies-it was singing like you’ve never heard before. Every single person, from ensemble to leads, had superlative vocals that just had you screaming and applauding like crazy from your seat! Combining their singing with the fantastic choreography by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams made for sheer musical theater heaven.

The ensemble is overflowing with electrifying talent. They sing, harmonize, and pull out all the stops in bringing those classic hits to life. They portray a plethora of various characters with strong conviction, always staying in the moment. Song after song, they sell these golden hits like superstars.

Josh Tower provides a sublime performance as Berry Gordy. He commands the stage just like Gordy did with his Motown Empire. His chemistry with Allison Semmes as Diana Ross oozes sexual heat and passion. Tower’s energy never wans and his stage presence beams brightly on stage. He has several solos throughout the evening, but his real shining moment vocally is his last big solo in Act II. As the song changes keys and goes higher and with more belt, Tower effortlessly glides through the song with the vocal power of a majestic lion. 

I saw Diana Ross live on stage back in San Antonio Texas in the 1980s. A concert where she changed gown after gown, each one beaded in ways that would make Liberace green with jealousy. And each gown came with a humongous floor length coat made with yards of tulle and chiffon, covered in jewels. So in MTM, it was really a touching and exciting treat when Allison Semmes as Diana Ross recreates her concert scene singing her famous hit, “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand”. She did exactly what Ross did with the song. Ross (Aka Semmes) goes out into the audience and picks several people to sing the chorus. She then tells the audience to reach for your neighbor’s hands lift them up and sway them high in the air singing along with her. I still so vividly recall that moment at Ross’s concert. Semmes recreates that concert sequence beautifully. Semmes has clearly done her homework in studying Ross. She nailed down the soft voice (speaking and singing) and Ross’s mannerisms. She maneuvered her massive red, multi-tiered tulle cape just like Ross did. She achieved loud laughs when she did the hair tossing gesture that Ross actually does in real life on stage. Vocally Semmes did a flawless job singing many of Ross’s big hits, both with the Supremes and later on in her solo career. She even physically resembles Ross. Semmes delivers a tour de force performance as Miss Ross.

Jesse Nager nails Smokey Robinson’s speaking voice. That soft, raspy, slightly high pitched voice that we all have heard from Robinson Nager recreates to eerie perfection. With bouncing off the walls energy, Nager gives a crowd pleasing performance as one of Motown’s biggest stars. Vocally his shimmering tenor vocals glisten within Robinson’s many hits. Nager also adds many of the biggest laughs within the production with his comedic chops.

As Marvin Gaye, Jarran Muse delivers a raw, masculine, and extraordinary performance as the soul legend who gave us so many great hits. Muse has a stunning singing voice that just astounds you. In one song he sings acapella with vocal riffs that were just unbelievable! Throughout this song the audience kept applauding and cheering over and over again as he sang. That’s how magical Muse is. When Gaye and Gordy have a heated fight over Gaye leaving Motown, Gordy shouts that he treated Gaye like a son. Gaye screams back he has a father already. Those lines do bring a sharp pain in your heart. For as we all know that Gaye was shot and killed by his own father years later. Muse delivers a peerless performance.

San Antonio native Nathaniel Cullors steals the show from the adults as young Michael Jackson. This kid can sing, no I mean the kid CAN SING! My god I don’t think I’ve heard a young boy sing with such voracious vocals. His high golden tenor voice soars into the rafters and he belts like a tornado hitting the audience. The stage production incredibly recreates Michael and his brothers’ legendary TV appearance on the Hollywood Palace special that Diana Ross hosted. From the set to the costumes, it was perfectly recreated. Cullors sang Michael’s solos that truly reminded you of the future king of Pop. I’m sure many felt like I did watching Cullors performance. It made you think of the real Michael Jackson. Now knowing Michael’s painful childhood, his father’s beatings, the loss of being a normal boy, and his tragic death, you feel the loss of Jackson and his talents as this tiny tyke brings him back to life on stage. Cullors has no hint of stiff, childlike acting. Instead his acting craft and technique is honest and constantly in the moment. He is phenomenal.

There are so many great performances from the cast, but we must give a standing ovation to Martina Sykes as Mary Wells. She has powerhouse vocals that had the audience awarding her with deafening applause. She is utterly magical as Wells. Also kudos to Doug Storm. He achieves hearty laughs as the redneck cop doing crowd control at a Motown concert held in a Southern state. Storm’s walk across the stage yelling at the crowd was hysterical. Later on he again generates rip roaring laughter as Ed Sullivan. He magically transforms his face to resemble the legendary TV host, right down to his posture and walk!

As for the production elements, well they are AMAZING! 

David Korins’ scenic design meshed gorgeously with Daniel Brodie’s projection design. The book goes through history at a fast, neck breaking speed. We jump years and eras in a flick of a second. Thankfully Korins and Brodie aides the audience immensely with their designs to let us know where we are. 

Korins recreates several key set pieces that are exact replicas of the originals. Such as the centerpiece for the Motown 25th Anniversary telecast, the Jacksons TV debut, and so on. The set pieces are finely adorned with props and detailed in design finesse. Such as Gordy’s Los Angeles home as well as his family home back in Detroit. Korins created long strips of beams that stretch across the stage or go high into the fly rail. These beams move all evening long to create the various locations. I did miss however not seeing the backdrop of streams of crystals that was used for Diana Ross’s solo concert scene that the Broadway version had. There is also this very detailed 3-D set piece that resembles a row of homes in Detroit, they curve and float far upstage. This is not a painted backdrop, but an actual built set piece designed with eye popping results. 

Daniel Brodie’s exquisite projection design is used with stellar success here. He projects his videos and images not only onto the two massive projection walls placed directly center stage (which move all evening long), but also the side panels and even the beams that Korins has designed. Brodie uses these beams to project time periods and locations to let the audience know where we are within the story. The projections are mind-boggling! Brodie beams out video images of everything, from the 60s psychedelic swirl of colors and images to the 70s cartoonish/disco era. He also created a series of vignettes containing some of our nation’s darker periods, such as Vietnam, the deaths of Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, the uproar of racial tension, and so on. His projections for the concert scenes also add so much to the scenic design, such as Diana Ross’s solo debut. For the finale he projects a montage of the actual album covers of Motown’s musical history of hits.

Costume design for this musical was done by Esosa. All of us who are Project Runway fans know him as Emilio Sosa, who placed second in Season 7 and on Season 2 of Project Runway All Stars he made to the finale, but sadly did not win. His costume design for MTM are works of pop art. He studied intensely not only the time periods, but also what the artists actually wore in several iconic concerts/TV appearances. He designs an array of dazzling tuxedos for the various male groups with satins of various colors. From bright yellow to midnight blue to shimmery silver. Of course his best work is for the Supremes and Diana Ross. When they are in Paris, Esosa has them in heavily beaded copper hued cocktail costumes. For their debut at the Copa, they are adorned in floor length powder blue gowns dusted with rhinestones. For another concert scene they wear these stunning sequined gowns of golds, blues, and silvers. For Diana Ross he pulls out all the stops. Her gold beaded gown for one scene is gorgeous. Sitting so close I could see the great detail that went into the formation of sequins and stones that Esosa designed within the gown. For Ross’s solo debut he designed a blinding white gown beaded beyond belief! It was pure Diva Ross fabulous! Allison Semmes (as Diana) looked just like her in this incredibly designed gown that must have weighed a ton with all that beading. Her final gown is a masterpiece. A red confection of red encrusted sequins and rhinestones, topped off with a massive billowing tulle cape! You will marvel at the artistry created by Esosa’s costume design in this musical.

One of my all-time favorite lighting designers is back-Natasha Katz! I swear this lighting designer can do no wrong! She is the lighting designer for the current critically acclaimed hit An American in Paris that I just saw on Broadway in May. Katz received this year’s Tony Award for Best Lighting design for An American in Paris-and rightfully deserved it! She first made me a fan of her work when I saw the original Broadway production of Elton John’s Aida, which earned Katz her first Tony Award. Once again she brings her prodigious lighting design to impeccable life in MTM. She uses everything that is available in the latest in lighting technology at her fingertips for her creations of light. Her color palette is rich and lush. There are gobos, ions of piercing light and specific spears of light to enhance a musical number. Observe what she designed for Berry Gordy’s final big solo, the lighting design is just so detailed for this number. The concert scenes she bathes the sets and actors in pure showmanship razzle dazzle! My coined term of “emotional lighting” she uses with first rate success here. Several ballads and full out company numbers have the emotion pumped up even higher thanks to Katz’s unrivaled lighting creations.

Overall the only major flaw here is the somber, prosaic book. Unfortunately this book is a prime example of why some lovers of musical theater hate about the jukebox musical. It is difficult to take many of Motown’s biggest hits to fit into the pedestrian book. Try as he might, Gordy alas could not create an emotional, organic, unbreakable, dramatic thread connecting book with song. 

So forget about that! What makes Motown the Musical so intoxicating is the music, the unprecedented vocals of this cast, and its exceptional production design of set, light, and costume. 

At Wednesday’s press night performance the audience went into a frenzy of shrieking screams of applause and whistles. I have not attended a national tour that received that kind of response not only after EVERY musical number, but DURING the number itself! I found myself swaying away, moving my head, and just enjoy all that great Motown music sung by this sensational, miraculous, and stupendous cast! This alone is the very reason why you need to see this production! You will not hear a cast sing like this using one of the greatest catalogues of music ever created!


MOTOWN: THE MUSICAL (National Tour)
AT&T Performing Arts Center, Winspear Opera House
Through August 16, 2015

Center Members get first access to the best available tickets. Call Membership Services at 214-978-2888 or go to www.attpac.org/support. Tickets start at $30 and can be purchased online at www.attpac.org, by phone at 214-880-0202 or in person at the AT&T Performing Arts Center Information Center at 2353 Flora Street (Monday 10am–6pm; Tuesday thru Saturday 10am–9pm; Sunday 10am–6pm). Theater located at 2403 Flora Street, Dallas, TX 75201. Ticket info:
http://www.attpac.org/on-sale/2015/motown/?gclid=CJvb3Jn56cYCFQuQaQodsqkC2w

Review : Exuberant MOTOWN - THE MUSICAL Tour Entertains with Non-Stop Hits

Michael L. Quintos

Evidenced by numerous past experiences, most savvy theatergoers tend to have lowered expectations when it comes to jukebox musicals—those unabashedly nostalgia-baiting stage shows usually packaged with familiar music from one genre, era, or artist for its score as it moves along not-so-secretly disguised as musical theater.

While, of course, there certainly have been notable exceptions over the years that have surprised and have even delighted both audiences and critics alike, on the whole, most architects of these jukebox musicals are perhaps more motivated by the lure of familiarity—an easier, less risky feat than, say, what an original, created-from-scratch musical may entice. Thus, on the surface, it seems that the mere existence of a memorable songbook is a good enough reason for a show to exist in the first place… so who cares how effectively told its accompanying story may be?

Which is why I am slightly torn about MOTOWN - THE MUSICAL, the rousingly entertaining, exuberantly-performed stage spectacular now in its initial leg of its national tour. Now playing a rather long sit-down engagement at Hollywood's famed Pantages Theatre through June 7, this dazzling, high-octane extravaganza of music and dance is a visual and aural feast that gamely crams in more than 60—yes, 60—hits from the groundbreaking record company's discography. 

Sure, that amazing catalog certainly sounds like a great jumping-off point for a musical, but in the end, the whole thing comes off more as a first-rate concert re-creation rather than a typical book musical, in which the songs exist in service of the story rather than the other way around. 

Not that there's anything wrong with that (well, in most instances, anyway)...because, in the end, this made-for-mass-appeal Broadway musical about the founding of one of America's most successful recording imprints succeeds in its ultimate goal: entertaining the audience and reminding everyone of the legacy of these songs. 

Yes, for more than two vigorous hours, MOTOWN - THE MUSICAL provides one helluva show, packed to the brim with incredible, history-defining songs that span decades into Detroit's staggering record-making machine. Much like the super-pumped, celebrity-packed audience in attendance for the show's Hollywood Opening Night, I, too, got swept up in the electricity of hearing awesome hit after awesome hit. These songs have not only been a huge part of my own musical education growing up, they also prompted my own deep love of soul and R&B music.

So it's no surprise, then, to say that for many, the Motown catalog is the true star of this particular showcase, especially when staged and sung in such rapid succession in this manner. Song after gloriously-sung song, you can't help but feel awed by the undeniable, hit-making prowess of Motown founder and artistic impresario Berry Gordy, here played with convincing swagger and likability by Julius Thomas III. 

Not only is Gordy responsible for creating and curating some of history's most beloved pop and R&B music, he is also responsible for personally nurturing the careers of the talented artists that performed these hits (and, apparently in Diana Ross' case, she received extra special personal nurturing). His record label and the music it churned out not only forever altered the face of popular, chart-topping music, but Motown itself also helped usher a signature sound that had universal, "crossover" appeal that broke through radio stations that have long denied them airplay (plus, it's hard to deny this music's large role in the advancement of civil rights, too).

MOTOWN - THE MUSICAL, for all intents and purposes, is one enjoyable greatest hits compilation come to life, armed with spry staging by director Charles Randolf Wright; lively choreography by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams; dazzling visuals by David Korins and Daniel Brodie; superb retro costumes by Esosa; spirited orchestrations by Ethan Popp and Bryan Cook; and an ensemble cast that's about as talented as you can possibly assemble on one stage. Seriously, this amazing cast can sing anything. In their talented auspices, the Motown catalog is as truly alive and vibrant as ever (Oh, and extra kudos, too, considering Gordy himself plus Smokey Robinson were in attendance Opening Night).

As aggressively entertaining as it is, though, this jukebox musical does have one minor weak spot: its book, credited to Gordy himself (with assists from David Goldsmith and Dick Scanlan) based on Gordy's own memoir To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown, which recounts the history of his label from its early beginnings up until its 25th Anniversary celebration. As such, the rushed, narrative gospel herein is a personally-approved version of Gordy's story, told from his own perspective and his perspective alone—much like a carefully-crafted press release. 

Thus, in the show's very flattering, very pro-Gordy storyline, we're allowed to see an interesting, albeit perhaps a tad filtered look into his life, which does include interactions between him and some of his lauded artists such as close pal Smokey Robinson (the winning Jesse Nager), the apparently too-madly-introspective Marvin Gaye (the lovely-voiced Jarran Muse), and, yes, even tiny pre-pubescent Michael Jackson (played by scene-stealing Leon Outlaw, Jr. at this performance, who pulls triple duty as not only MJ but also young Gordy and young Stevie Wonder).

And, of course, we even get to see glimpses of his romantic entanglement with the one and only Diana Ross (the stunningly mesmerizing Allison Semmes). The Supremes' lead singer-turned-solo superstar gets almost equal stage time as Gordy, as the show attempts to show a portion of their passionate, sometime contentious, and, ultimately, highly-productive, highly-lucrative relationship.

But, alas, the stories weaved into this musical, in all honesty, only seem to serve as a contextual means to operate the show's non-stop conveyor belt of chart-toppers—some fully staged like stand-alone showstoppers, others, just touched on for a brief moment. Well, that seems like a fair compromise: after all, how else would the show be able to give due diligence to more than 60 hits, plus three original songs penned especially for the musical... all within its running time?

Right out of the gate, MOTOWN - THE MUSICAL bursts with a musical explosion, and hardly slows down, as we observe some of Motown's reunited supergroups in rehearsal at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium for the taping of Motown's 25th Anniversary TV special. Across town, Gordy appears troubled. Soon various underlings, including producer Suzanne de Passe (Krisha Marcano), try to convince him to leave his office and make an appearance at the taping of the TV show honoring his legacy. Gordy refuses. 

In flashback, the story transports the audience back into Gordy's past—first as a child fascinated by adults enjoying music, then later, as he brazenly forms his record company, with some cheerful support from his velvet-voiced best bud Smokey. His primary aims: to nurture every aspect of his artists—from their songs and their choreography, to their costumes and venues; and, most importantly, to force his talented stable of African American artists to break into white radio playlists, instead of just relegating their songs under the same derogatory label of "race music." The success certainly wasn't overnight (well, almost), but its long-lasting impressions are still, obviously, quite profound.

As the musical moves forward, we are treated to a rapid-fire succession of Motown hits, from their early groups' songs including "Shop Around," "I Can't Get Next To You," "Please, Mr. Postman," to "My Girl," "I Can't Help Myself," and  "Dancing in the Street." Every conceivable musical entity that came from Motown seems present: Martha and the Vandellas, The Marvelettes, The Four Tops, The Temptations, The O-Jays, Stevie Wonder, Jackie Wilson, The Jackson 5, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Commodores, and, yep, even Teena Marie!

Along the way, the music Gordy spearheaded became the soundtrack to civil rights struggles, the wars at home and abroad, and the growing fight at home against poverty, inequality, and oppression. Much later, after years of proven success, Gordy must also contend with a new threat: disgruntled artists and writers willing to jump to another label for more lucrative deals. Also developing, lest we forget... the budding romance between svengali Gordy and his gorgeous muse Ross. She's determined to be a star and he's extremely invested in making it happen.

This careful attention given to Gordy and Ross' romantic and business relationships certainly gives the show a little narrative heft, but, again, in MOTOWN - THE MUSICAL, it's really, truly all about the music, baby. Highlights  include Gaye's piercingly heartfelt "What's Going On" that closes the first act, the joyfully romantic "You're All I Need To Get By" duet between Gordy and Ross, the recreation of the rousing "ABC" and later the touching "I'll Be There" both by the Jackson 5, and, yes, a good ol' sing-along that had Semmes (as Ross in full Vegas-y goodness) going into the audience and pulling some random person to sing with her.

Throughout the concert—er, I mean musical, the show does not allow for one single musical lull. I mean, the show is so lively that even the sets and projections feel like they're doing choreography! Among the many things the show accomplishes successfully, MOTOWN - THE MUSICAL in particular gets the nostalgia exactly right, framing each number with recognizable, era-appropriate aspects about the artists singing each song. If anything else, this stage musical is one exceptional impersonator showcase, a hundred notches better than anything you'd see in a Vegas showroom. Aside from Muse's Gaye, Nager's adorable Smokey, and Semmes' stunning turn as Ms. Ross, other notable standouts include Patrice Covington as Martha Reeves (sang!), Elijah Ahmad Lewis as Stevie Wonder, and Doug Storm as a comically exaggerated Ed Sullivan.

Overall, MOTOWN - THE MUSICAL is a fun and frivolous party that you will no doubt love—at least for its undeniable musicality delivered by this incredible, top-tier cast of quintuple-threats. Despite a few groan-inducing pieces of dialogue that feel like they've been dispensed from fortune cookies (sample line: "Competition breeds champions!"), the show is a thrilling trip down memory lane filled with one showstopping number after another (Although, seeing Gordy gamely dance with the cast during the Opening Night curtain call/encore certainly solidified my enjoyment of the show).

I mean c'mon... how can you not enjoy a night of these amazing hits? 


Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8ivemlq 

Photos from MOTOWN - THE MUSICAL National Tour by Joan Marcus. 

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Performances of MOTOWN THE MUSICAL at the Pantages Theatre continue through June 7, 2015 and are scheduled Tuesday through Friday at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 pm and 8 pm, and Sundays at 1pm and 6:30pm. 

Tickets can be purchased online at HollywoodPantages.com, by phone at 1-800-982-ARTS(2787) or in person at the Pantages box office (opens daily at 10am) and all Ticketmaster outlets. The Pantages Theatre is located at 6233 Hollywood Boulevard, just east of Vine Street. 

For more information, please visit HollywoodPantages.com.