“Motown the Musical”: A Glorious Era of African American Music Thrillingly Staged

By John Townsend December 18, 2014

Categories: Arts & Culture, Clubs & Music, Our Scene

Motown record label founder, Berry Gordy, has created his own autobio-musical. But it’s not just some effort at self-promotion. Motown the Musical is framed by tunes from the Motown catalog, Gordy’s personal side of the Motown story, and actors playing such Motown giants as Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross. It’s one of the most impressive music showcases you will ever see and has been staged with majestic flourish by director Charles Randolph-Wright. You can thrill to the national tour now on stage at the Orpheum.

Everyone will have their own favorites as they watch this show. The opening night house was wild about Reed L. Shannon as the young Michael Jackson. Julius Thomas III’s Gordy is a deft and vibrantly masculine turn that guides the musical with silky ease. But it’s Allison Semmes who brings an utterly divine yet down-to-earth view of Diana Ross that actually hits the heights.

Krisha Marcano (Florence Ballard), Allison Semmes (Diana Ross) & Trisha Jeffrey (Mary Wilson) as The Supremes, singing "Stop! In The Name of Love"

Krisha Marcano (Florence Ballard), Allison Semmes (Diana Ross) & Trisha Jeffrey (Mary Wilson)
as The Supremes, singing “Stop! In The Name of Love”
Photo by Joan Marcus

Randolph-Wright has seamlessly and joyously steered this heavenly and rather large ensemble to flow scene to scene to scene, with numerous musical sections from hit Motown tunes, in a way that mesmerizes and uplifts almost constantly. You will seldom see so many smooth scene transitions.

Moreover, you will seldom see a production in which technological and technical elements so gorgeously blend with the human form. David Korins’s scenic design, Esosa’s costumes, Natasha Katz’s lighting, Daniel Brodie’s astonishing projections, all come together to amazing effect.

Ethan Popp and Bryan Cook’s orchestrations, Darryl Archibald’s music direction, Charles G. LaPointe’s wigs all culminate beautifully. That culmination reveals three very distinct phases of music and style from the late 1950s through the ’70s. It’s like a fun and emotional music education.

Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams’s choreography captures dance styles of the era as well. You will want to get up and dance!

Motown the Musical
Through Dec. 28
Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.

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