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reviews of "Motown The Musical"

Thu Apr 18, 2013 6:11 am ... qkgzvABK0I

‘Motown' is visually uninspired, but musically exciting
Last Updated: 10:48 AM, April 15, 2013
Posted: 10:29 PM, April 14, 2013

Elisabeth Vincentelli
Blog: Theater


Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 W. 46th St.; 877-250-2929. Running time: 165 minutes, one intermission.

Here’s what a $150 orchestra seat gets you at “Motown: The Musical”: bargain-basement sets, basic choreography performed merely adequately, and laughable dialogue.

But then there are the songs: thrilling, unimpeachable, familiar yet still completely fresh. They fill the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in a huge, giddy rush — and number a whopping 59, though most are shortened.

The plot is equally wide-ranging: This may well be the first bio-musical about a company, covering the record label’s first 25 years, up to 1983.

You can understand book writer Berry Gordy for not wanting to leave anything out — after all, he himself founded Motown and steered it through a golden age of soul and R&B. (Younger readers probably know Gordy better as the dad of Redfoo from LMFAO.)

Joan Marcus
The songs soar and the sound is superb, so perhaps audiences won’t notice the lack of plot in “Motown,” which was written by Motown mogul Berry Gordy, who is portrayed by Brandon Victor Dixon (center).
Here he’s portrayed by Brandon Victor Dixon as a passionate fan with a double mission: to bring the music he loved into every home and to make African-Americans proud.

Gordy addresses those goals in some of the new songs he co-wrote for the show. “Hey, Joe (Black Like Me)” describes young Berry’s discovery of racial pride after Joe Louis’ historic 1938 victory, while “It’s What’s in the Grooves That Counts” confirms his open-armed approach: “For me, there is no black or white,” he sings.

Like another great American achievement, the Model T car, Motown’s music was made in Detroit as if on an assembly line, the better to deliver perfectly polished product.

But unlike Motown records, Charles Randolph Wright’s production is rough around the edges. Daniel Brodie’s projections often look fuzzy and out of focus. Choreographers Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams’ ensemble numbers are lax; the Temptations and the Four Tops’ coordinated moves lack the necessary silky smoothness.

The show fares best with the music, which is usually spot-on. The engaging actors work hard to overcome the constraints of imitation. Despite being onstage for just a few minutes, the electrifying N’Kenge (Mary Wells) and Eric LaJuan Summers (as Jackie Wilson, Contours singer Billy Gordon and Rick James) make lasting impressions.

All are bolstered by Peter Hylenski’s excellent sound design, a rarity on Broadway. Loud but crisp, it’s a perfect match for the large orchestra’s explosive brass and driving rhythms.

Some of the label’s less savory moments are mentioned in passing: the songwriting team Holland-Dozier-Holland suing for missing royalties, Gordy pushing Florence Ballard out of the Supremes to guarantee Diana Ross’ reign as leader.

Ross actually dominates the second act, and she’s hilariously played by Valisia LeKae as a meek “who me?” naif who just loved Berry and wanted to sing. Several of her scenes flirt with unintentional camp worthy of Gordy’s cult 1975 movie “Mahogany,” as when Ross launches into “I Hear a Symphony” after her mogul lover has a bedroom failure.

Like this show’s audience, she should just have closed her eyes and thought of Detroit. ... -1.1315324

‘Motown: The Musical’: Theater review
Saga of Berry Gordy's hit factory is long on tunes, but short on story

Published: Sunday, April 14, 2013, 11:00 PM
Updated: Sunday, April 14, 2013, 11:00 PM
Joan Marcus
Valisia LeKae and Brandon Victor Dixon as Diana Ross and Berry Gordy in “Motown: The Musical”

Title: 'Motown: The Musical'
Venue: Lunt-Fontanne Theatre
Location: 205 W. 46th St.
Price: $65.50-$150.50
Phone: (212) 239-6262
Berry Gordy founded the Motown record empire in the ’60s. Now he’s telling his story with chart-toppers from his hit factory in “Motown the Musical,” which opened Sunday at the Lunt-Fontanne on Broadway.

There’s no shortage of great tunes from which to choose. And if a batch of catchy classics with tasty harmonies and cool grooves like “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Stop in the Name of Love,” “My Girl” and “ABC” were enough to make a jukebox musical click, the show would be an automatic hit.

But it takes more. While the music catalog runs deep, the story is shallow. The book, penned by Gordy, who also produced the show, suffers from being sketchy, earnest and sometimes corny.

The action begins and ends at a televised 25th anniversary Motown reunion. Gordy (Brandon Victor Dixon) won’t go. He’s seen too many singers he made famous leave him, lawsuits and bad blood. Will Gordy go to his own party? The answer comes nearly three hours later.

Between the end points, we’re swept back to the late ’30s for a brief glimpse of Gordy’s boyhood wish to be Joe Louis. The story moves through the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s name-checking various acts and tragic milestone moments of turbulent times.

Under the direction of Broadway rookie Charles Randolph-Wright, nearly 50 songs, including a couple new ones for the show, are performed with pizazz. Dixon (“The Color Purple”) anchors the show nicely and brings gravity to a thinly drawn part.

The very appealing Valisia LeKae (“The Book of Mormon”) channels Diana Ross’ manners and voice to play the Supreme being. She brings a blast of spontaneity re-creating Ross’ solo Las Vegas concert and summons audience members to belt a bit of “Reach Out and Touch.” Gordy and Ross could have reached out and touched each other a bit more. They made hits and a baby together but their stage romance is anemic enough to make you wonder “What’s Going On.”

Lending fine support are Charl Brown as true-blue Smokey Robinson, Bryan Terrell Clark as social-minded Marvin Gaye and Raymond Luke, Jr., as little Michael Jackson, who stopped the show easy as 1, 2, 3.

David Korins’ set pieces shift from studio to home to studio and keep the show in motion. Ditto Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams’s smooth dance moves.

“Motown” joins a growing roster of shows trying to re-create the success of “Jersey Boys,” which told the Four Seasons’ backstory in dramatic fashion.

Drama is what’s missing in “Motown.” When all is sung and done, the show is about imitation more than illumination. Depending on how mad you are about Motown tunes, that may or may not matter. ... -1.5071506



Theater Review: 'Motown: The Musical' -- 2 stars

Photo credit: From left, Sydney Morton, Valisia LeKae and Ariana DeBose as The Supremes.

Motown: The Musical
2 stars

Instead of having to endure perhaps a dozen different jukebox musicals based on various Motown icons in future years, “Motown: The Musical” allows us to get it all over with in one shot.

It’s an unwieldy and unfocused attempt to package dozens of hit songs from all the trailblazing Motown performers of the 1960s and 1970s into a single sugarcoated, sanitized narrative revolving about workaholic megaproducer Berry Gordy.

Still, this elaborate, very busy production ought to please anyone looking to take a nostalgia trip and overlook its problems.

About 60 songs — described as “the legendary Motown Catalog” — are featured including “My Guy,” “My Girl,” “I’ll Be There,” “Dancing in the Street,” “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and numerous other standards.

Although many famous performers and groups are ably impersonated both physically and vocally — including Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations and Smokey Robinson — they all receive the same superficial treatment.

Gordy was closely involved with the musical and wrote its poor book.

Despite Brandon Victor Dixon’s sincerity, Gordy as a character comes across as too passive in nature. He is little more than a connective tissue to move from one group to the next.

“Jersey Boys,” which is undeniably the best of the jukebox genre, unhesitatingly addressed the Four Seasons’ gritty past, while “Motown” hides all traces of scandal under the rug. Even the racial tensions of the period are addressed too fleetingly to make an impact.

Ironically, while “Motown” bemoans how the music industry was ultimately swallowed up by corporate giants that wooed away Gordy’s major clients with wild offers, the musical is essentially a company history section of a corporate website.

Re: reviews of "Motown The Musical"

Thu Jun 13, 2013 5:46 am

Here's another: ... n-detroit/

On Broadway

A Broadway Hit—Made in Detroit

10 June 2013

Theatergoers trying to score tickets to Motown The Musical probably didn’t have to learn from The New York Times that the show currently playing at Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre is the “biggest box office hit among the new productions of the 2012-13 season.” It is certainly the hottest ticket in town, breaking $1 million each week, and consistently selling every ticket available since it opened in April. Motown charts the story of Berry Gordy Jr., the young African American man from Detroit, a former boxer and automotive factory worker, who, with a loan of $800 from this family, founded the company which became Motown Records in 1959; the new label would foster the careers of a host of superstars, including Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Martha Reeves, The Temptations, The Four Tops and Gladys Knight, and create a phenomenally successful and internationally well-loved brand of music.

The genesis of Motown The Musical dates back four and half years to when Doug Morris, then head of Universal Music Group, first floated the idea about a show to his long-time friend, Gordy, the legendary record producer and Founder of Motown. Morris, currently the Chairman and CEO of Sony Music Entertainment, has been dubbed ‘godfather of the music industry’; prior to heading the music divisions of Sony and Universal, he worked as top executive at Warner Music Group as well. “Berry is absolutely the best record guy in the history of the industry and I love the music,” Morris explained. “This story is truly an American success story. I mean where else in the world could this have happened? He didn’t come from a privileged background, he started his own company with very little money and he built it into the most unique record company in the world.”

Veteran Broadway producer Kevin McCollum was invited to join the Motown project about a year after Gordy and Morris began work. “My mother worked in a television station so I grew up around music my whole life and Berry Gordy was one of my heroes,” he reports. “Berry said to me, ‘I just want to tell the story of the family. People don’t realize that we were a real family and Motown was about the artists. I want to celebrate the artists and the fact that we built a company on talent and passion and hard work.’ I said if you could tell that story I would love to be a part of it. For me, if you look at all my shows—Rent, Avenue Q, In the Heights—they are all about people trying to form a family, and how that is what really brings happiness,” McCollum continues. “I think that is what is so great about Motown. The show is making people happy because we are showing what can be done with passion and talent.”

Gordy used his 1994 memoir To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, The Memories of Motown (released just last week by RosettaBooks in an eBook format) as the basis for the musical. “You know, he took a lot of time to make sure that a lot of people get their due credit,” notes Morris. “It was also an incredibly fantastic period in the history of America,” he adds, referring to the racial strife of the 1960s, the Civil Rights movement, the Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinations and moon landing. “He captured a time where the music really purposed what was going on.” McCollum reports, “Berry was very much a leader on how to approach the material.” There were a few occasions, he says, when he offered suggestions for one scene or another. “Berry would say to me, ‘that’s a good idea, Kevin, but it didn’t happen that way.’ He was very clear about being authentic.” And judging by their remarks after the show’s glittering opening night two months ago, the real-life Motown stars have embraced the musical as accurate. “He’s telling the truth,” said Diana Ross to the Detroit Free Press about her one-time beau. “He’s trying to get past all the crap that’s been said, all the tension.” Singer Smokey Robinson enthused to, “…this is the accurate account and people are finally going to be able to see the real deal.”

From Mamma Mia! to Jersey Boys, there has been a growing trend on Broadway to capitalize on popular music catalogs. Motown The Musical is the latest, and potentially the most successful of such enterprises, rejuvenating a cavalcade of hits for the generations that grew up with the Motown sound, and introducing the standards to a new audience. The Motown label and its catalog is now owned by Universal Music Group, which has now released the cast album, which includes classics such as “Dancing in the Street,” “My Girl,” “You’re All I Need To Get By,” “Where Did Our Love Go,” “I Want You Back,” as well as two new songs that Gordy wrote specifically for the musical. “I put the deal together when I was at Universal and now I am over at Sony,” notes Morris wryly, adding that it was not the corporation that set this particular project in motion. (Sony now administers EMI and the Jobete publishing catalog.) However, another corporation, The Chrysler Group, saw the potential of linking their iconic automobile brand with the iconic music label that shares the same hometown. Promoting both their product and the musical, the corporation has been running a television commercial nationally featuring Gordy riding a Chrysler 300C Motown Edition sedan with the famous Chrysler slogan “Imported from Detroit” altered to read “Imported from Motown.” Chrysler’s chief marketing officer, Oliver Francois told The New York Times, “Motown is the most exported from Detroit of any music and, in this case, imported to New York. It’s putting together the sound and the drive of Detroit. We were meant to meet.”

“All this synergy really works, but you still need a product that people really like,” comments Morris. “That’s the similarity to the music business. No one buys a piece of music they don’t like. I must say, the one thing I learned about Broadway is that it is much more difficult than the music industry,” he adds. “There is such a melding of different talents on Broadway that it’s pretty startling. I am amazed at how incredibly talented they are. And they have such a passion for it. It’s such a love of being on the stage and performing. Broadway obviously is a very special place.” McCollum notes that even though Morris and Gordy have not been involved with Broadway before, all three of them are not novices when it comes to entertainment. “It’s all about how you capture the public’s imagination,” he says. “The three of us were fortunate enough to choose each other but ultimately we are not responsible — it is the people who perform it eight times a week. I mean we are blessed with a wonderful and most talented group of people working on Broadway today and it is a truly remarkable thing to watch every night.”

By Gerard Raymond