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‘Motown' is visually uninspired, but musically exciting
By ELISABETH VINCENTELLI
Last Updated: 10:48 AM, April 15, 2013
Posted: 10:29 PM, April 14, 2013
MOTOWN: THE MUSICAL
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.)
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.firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainmen ... -1.1315324
‘Motown: The Musical’: Theater review
Saga of Berry Gordy's hit factory is long on tunes, but short on story
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Published: Sunday, April 14, 2013, 11:00 PM
Updated: Sunday, April 14, 2013, 11:00 PM
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.
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.http://www.amny.com/urbanite-1.812039/t ... -1.5071506
By MATT WINDMAN
Theater Review: 'Motown: The Musical' -- 2 stars
Photo credit: From left, Sydney Morton, Valisia LeKae and Ariana DeBose as The Supremes.
Motown: The Musical
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.