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A CurtainUp DC Review
Gordy launched among others Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, the Supremes, Four Tops, Temptations, the Jackson Five, Martha and the Vandellas, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. From an early age, Gordy knew what he wanted to do and that was have his own record production company. His means were slim but his ambition was huge.
With a loan of $800 from his family the sound he created. Motown, short for Motor Town, Detroit, became one of if not the biggest phenomenon in music for several decades. The artists under contract to Gordy had careers that took them from poverty to superstardom.
It should come as no surprise that Motown, the Musical is from Berry Gordy's perspective and vanity. He wrote the show which is based on his book, To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, The Memories of Motown, and he is therefore treated as an heroic character.
The connective tissue between songs is not always original or, for that matter, totally accurate but what the hell, it is the Motown music, lyrics and high-energy dancing that patrons have come to see and hear. The numbers, I lost count of how many, seem not to have dated. "Baby, I Need Your Loving," "Dancin' in the Street," "Shop Around," and "Heard it through the Grapevine" — all still echo from many an Ipod or gym speaker system.
About Motown the Musical, which is now playing at Washington's National Theatre, the main characters of Berry Gordy, played and sung with sweet-voiced emotion-laden Josh Tower, and the fabulous impression, physically and vocally of Diana Ross, by Allison Semmes nails every one of her numbers and the arc of Ross's strong persona and un-fettered ambition.
Semmes's Diana Ross is also fortunate in the gowns costume designer Esosa has made for her. They reflect the fashions of the day and the increased sophistication of the Motown stars. The many, many costumes, often changed with lightening speed require perfect timing by the artists and whoever is dressing them backstage.
As Smokey Robinson, Jesse Nager has no trouble hitting the falsetto notes. One gets the impression that Berry's and Smokey's long-lasting association and friendship has lead to lots of ribbing which adds humor to the part. Marvin Gaye, whom Berry Gordy called "the bad boy" of Motown, played by Jarran Muse has a stellar voice and enough acting chops to bring to life Gaye's political and familial antagonisms.
Rear-screen projections (yet again) by Daniel Brodie provide the chronology of the 60's — the deaths of Martin Luther King, Jack and Bobby Kennedy, the Black Power movement and the riots. (Several parts of Washington, DC were burned to the ground in 1968, still raw in the memories of much of the audience.) David Korins's sets are serviceable, this is after all a travelling production, ditto Natasha Katz's lighting.
Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams, who have taken the choreography of the 60's and made it their own, are fortunate in having a brilliant dance ensemble of more than thirty performers that can match any other group around. Their syncopations are perfect. The size of the cast, the number of songs and routines performed, and the numerous costume and scene changes are smoothly handled by the very gifted director Charles Randolph-Wright. He is to be congratulated on pulling this big show together.
Never take the stage with kids or animals according to the old adage. So watch out all you singers and dancers 'cos here comes Leon Outlaw Jr. He imitates a young Michael Jackson, the little kid who fronted for his brothers in the Jackson Five. Remember his name, this kid has what it takes to be a star, big time.
After a nationwide tour, Motown, The Musical is returning to Broadway in July, 2016..