By Daniel Skora
It was the sound that captured the energy and the spirit of a generation, and it began right here in Detroit. “Motown The Musical” is back for a return engagement at the Fisher Theatre and if you missed it the first time, here’s your chance to experience again the music and the story of the man who made it all possible. If you saw it before, well, you can never get enough Motown.
The musical is equal parts Motown’s Greatest Hits and equal parts Berry Gordy biography/record label history. Gordy’s early years were spent as a prize fighter and working the line at the Ford Motor Company. His true passion, however, was music, and he used those same principals of the production line when starting his music business. The building on West Grand Boulevard, which came to be known as Hitsville U.S.A., became the center of Motown operations, and many who walked in through its front doors with raw talent left as recording stars and accomplished performers.
Some of the major points of the Motown storyline include early experiences with racism directed towards the performers and their music, Gordy’s romantic relationship with Diana Ross, and the exodus of some of the major stars from the Motown family because of the extraordinary contracts offered by the bigger corporations in the music business.
The musical features more than 40 songs, the majority Motown classics. So familiar are the hit songs of Motown that the artists who sang them hardly need identification. “My Grl”, “Dancin’ in the Streets”, “Lonely Teardrops”, “Baby, I Need Your Lovin’”, “Please, Mr. Postman”, “Baby Love”, “Do You Love Me”, and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” are just some of the songs from the Motown treasure trove performed in toto or in somewhat abbreviated versions in order to be able to cram as much of the Motown catalog into two-and-a-half hours of spectacular entertainment. And to sing them, the producers Kevin McColllum, Doug Morris, and Berry Gordy himself have assembled a talented group of performers with voices and looks as close to the original as possible.
With a cast of nearly thirty, which includes an ensemble that’s heavy on multi-tasking, lead roles belong to Chester Gregory as Berry Gordy, Allison Semmes as Diana Ross, David Kaverman as Smokey Robinson, Jarran Muse as Marvin Gaye, and Raymond Davis Jr. and CJ Wright alternating in the roles of Young Berry Gordy, Young Stevie Wonder, and Young Michael Jackson.
Sharing the spotlight with the music are those great-to-watch dance steps that gave the music of the Motown groups a visual element as well. The Temptations, the Contours, the Four Tops, the Miracles, the Supremes, and the Vandellas perform with the style of choreography they became known for, all played by a very talented and energetic group of young singer/dancers. The set, design by David Korins, features projections that not only place the songs in their proper historical period (musical styles, fashions, and artistic design turned over rather quickly in the 25 years covered by the storyline), but also add movement and energy to the musical numbers.
“Motown The Musical” is directed by Charles Randolph-Wright. Music supervision and arrangements are by Ethan Popp, choreography by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams, and costume design is by Emilio Sosa.
“Motown The Musical” runs through April 30th. Tickets are available at the Fisher Theatre box office in the Fisher Building, by phone at 1.800.982.2787, and online at www.TicketMaster.com. Information is available online at www.BroadwayinDetroit.com or by phone at 313.871.1132. The Fisher Theatre is located at 3011 West Grand Blvd. in Detroit, just a (long) stone’s throw away from the Hitsville U.S.A. building, now known as The Motown Museum.