Book by Berry Gordy
Music & Lyrics from the legendary Motown Catalog
Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright
Music supervisor Ethan Popp
Choreographed by Patricia Wilsox & Warren Adams
Produced by Broadway In Chicago
At the Oriental Theatre, Chicago
Tuneful nostalgic trip down memory lane presents snips from over 60 Motown tunes
The National Tour of Motown The Musical starts in Chicago at the Oriental Theatre for an extended run through August 9, 2014. This nostalgic trip back to the most influential independent record label of all-time. Motown Records created and nurtured by Berry Gordy is part a bio-musical and a bio of Gordy that contains dazzling snips of over 60 Motown hits from the likes of Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Steve Wonder, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross among others.
Motown The Musical tells the story of Berry Gordy whose passion for and instinctual feel for pop R &B musical and his leadership and mentoring skills brought him from ‘want-s-be’ music producer to a major music mogul who changed the flavor of pop music forever! Clifton Oliver plays Gordy as a determined, passionate yet controlling visionary who launched and nurtured fledgling music talents in super-stars. The talented cast of 33 landed the song with high energy.
We are almost overwhelmed by the none-stop musical spinets from the glorious Motown catalog. The hits just keep coming but unfortunately few tunes were played through. While I enjoyed the spirited slick and sassy stage and performances, I felt that the ‘book’ or story line was superficial at best. We do get hints of Gordy’s life and struggles but there isn’t enough attention to Gordy’s creative process and chsracter. It almost seemed, after a few scenes, that this show should just become a revue of the terrific well know Motown songbook. I think audiences care more about the music than the history of Berry Gordy and Motown Records. It also becomes impossible to develop much about all the super-star’s life and creative process.
With all the frantic attempts to mount over 50 tunes from the Motown Catalog, the shows becomes blandly slick as it lacks heart. The talents become commodities raced out to present their songs. Also, Clifton Oliver presents Berry Gordy with an underwhelming sense of passion rendering him little more than a narrator. Oliver need to show more emotion especially when his empire is in collapse and talents start leaving.
Still, it is impossible not to be impressed with the sheer delight from the Motown songbook.The songs stand on their own and the talents that Gordy launched did change the pop culture of America. That deserves a major show. But this production lacks the warmth and heart that we have seen at Black Ensemble Theatre under the creative leadership of Jackie Taylor. Maybe the producers should have her add some humanity and heart to this production?
Motown the Musical does deliver a vast musical treat and it summarizes the achievements of Berry Gordy in an eye-popping production that is both a nostalgic trip to our past and a fine way to introduce today’s youngsters to the toe-tapping Motown sound.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: May 8, 2014
For more info checkout the Motown The Musical page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, Chicago, IL, call 800-775-2000, www.broadwayinchicago.com, tickets $30 – $138, Tuesdays at 7:30 pm, Wednesdays at 2 & 7:30 pm,Thursdays at 7;30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm with additional 7:30 pm performances on May 11 & July 6, running time is 2 hours, 45 minutes with intermission, through August 9, 2014