Motown has a certain energy about it, I left feeling enlivened and wondering where this music had been all my life. The show made me feel connected to the songs and the people that created them. Dropping you right into Motown through a balance between fun music and historical context, the show follows Berry Gordy and the artists of Motown from the late 1950’s to the early 1980’s. Along this journey you experience the ups and downs of Motown. From the joy of first number one records to the fear and confusion after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. they wrote their feelings into the songs and those emotions remain relevant still today.
Actors like Julius Thomas III (Berry Gordy), Allison Semmes (Diana Ross) and Jesse Nager(Smokey Robinson) embodied the spirit of Motown. Not only did they have soulful voices but also dynamic emotional performances. A young actor that can’t be overlooked is Reed L. Shannon (Young Michael Jackson/Berry Gordy/Stevie Wonder). His performance stole the stage especially in the second act as a young Michael Jackson. Also impressive throughout was show was the 21 members of the ensemble, each actor playing at least 2 roles. A slight disappointment during the show was that the character of Marvin Gaye(Jarran Muse) felt underdeveloped. Though Muse performed well, the script left out details that would have made me feel as connected to Marvin Gaye as the other characters.
On the technical side, the show contained beautifully simple sets, lighting that tied the show together, and an orchestra that held true to the Motown sound. The show contained the most successful use of screens that I have ever seen, showing anything from headlines to album covers, and sometimes just dividing up the stage. These screens often provided historical context that explained the deep emotions being felt by the characters. The orchestra, under the direction of Darryl Archibald, was a highlight of the show. From first note to last they gave energy to what was happening on stage. There were a few technical glitches throughout the show that distracted slightly.
Something that was clear to me throughout the show was the relevance of the message of Motown. It is impossible to see the show without the lens of cultural context. In Motown I was reminded repeatedly of the issues of race that have been appearing in the news recently. The music in Motown echoed the emotions being felt by countless people right now as the fight for true equality continues.
I would highly recommend this show to anyone. It should be kept in mind that this show runs close to 3 hours long and has some mild language therefore would probably not fit a young audience. Anyone planning on going to this show should expect a night of dancing in Motown with a just a touch of historical and cultural awareness.