What the world needs now is glitter, sequins and a bit more glitter. There isn’t enough shimmering in shows these days. Next to Normal? Nary a twinkle. Spring Awakening? Less gleam and more child abuse. Once? Less sparkle than a room full of burlap bags. Good thing for the theatre community, Motown brought not only the shimmer but the funk. A show was packed to the brim with exiting and iconic songs, and it wowed with its creativity and precision. Motown, now at the Minneapolis Orpheum Theater through December 28 was a spectacle of glamor, glitz and…what’s another g word that’s not glitter?
This show consistently pleased its audience in a way that was remarkable. The first chord of a song would play and the audience was already applauding it. This show started off on the right tracks immediately with a stirring overture and the action raced right away. As soon as the brash and bouncy music began, accompanied by exiting strobes on the glowing scrim “M”, which served as the evening “bat signal” to let us all know we were in for a rollicking good time. That “M” surely didn’t stand for Minneapolis, but for Motown. The costumes, set and performers were all fun, funky and fabulous. There was not a dirndl skirt nor an ugly Christmas sweater to be found onstage (but plenty in the audience). The sharp, segmented lighting of the set created an infinite amount of spaces, with little to no time needed for transitions, the show was able to move at its lively pace. The media element was used to the greatest of its ability. Projections offered a view into real life at the time, and the influences events of the time had on the Motown sound. The plot was a bit strained under the weight of the grand total of sixty songs represented. The introduction of characters and setting was a bit shaky for the first couple of scenes, but it sped up soon. Due to the rush to include everyone and their mother’s favorite Motown hits, some got lost in the stampede. It would have been a better paced show had they focused on just the best of the best and taken the time to do those justice first before moving on to the next.
The time frame was done extremely well, almost too well, as the civil rights issues during the time are reflected today. It was a bit disheartening to see how little things have changed for African Americans. The scenes poking fun at police brutality made the audience uneasy and uncomfortable and provoked silence and fidgeting in their seats. The singing and choreography were both impeccable, especially from the lead Allison Semmes belting out as Diana Ross. She not only did a great impression of Ross but added loads of spunk and charisma so it was clear to the audience why Ross had risen to the top. The other stand out performance was that of Reed L. Shannon. Tasked with the difficult job to portray Young Berry Gordy, Young Stevie Wonder, and Young Michael Jackson, Shannon took on the responsibility with grace and persistence. He caught the audience’s hearts and kept them with his impressive vocal and movement abilities.
While it’s not a definitive history of the black experience in the United States during the 1960s and 70s, it did offer an entertaining and unifying glimpse into the creation and inspiration of a signature sound that the world can still dance to weddings and bar mitzvahs.