You might need seat belts if you’re planning to attend “Motown the Musical.” I guarantee you, you will not be able to contain yourself. And, if you’re a dignified theater goer, you will be forced to raise your hand in a hallelujah manner, sway in your seat, or just yell out with the rest of the theater goers. Yeah, it’s just that hot, moving and utterly wonderful.
From ‘dancing in your seat’ to being totally engaged in the dialogue coming from the stage, you’re suddenly struck by the vision, energy and pain Motown creator Berry Gordy faced while building and maintaining his dream, and slowly seeing it taken from him. From heartfelt rejection and at times downright anger, Berry Gordy, a Black man with a heart for his people and their music, literally changed the world.
Okay, before I get all misty-eyed, let me just tell you the performances were more than outstanding. I don’t know how long it took for the Gordy team to cast them, but they did one heck of a job. From the first notes out of their mouths the audience started yelling, like they were the actual performers. Sometimes it was too much for the mind to calculate, these young men and women seemed possessed by the very people they portrayed, living or dead.
There was a certain sweetness to the portrayals of Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye. To this day, Smokey is by Gordy’s side. But I felt special attention was given to Marvin Gaye. We really got to see what a creative genius he was. His passions ran deep, his dreams were big and not always realistic. He had to beg Berry Gordy to let him create “What’s Going On?” Gordy thought it was too depressing. In this scene, we see how Gordy truly had a heart for his artists.
The stage and staging was a treat for the eyes. The color and energy blasting out at you was breathtaking. If you are a firsthand witness to the Motown era, the staging will take you back, and if you are not then get ready for a mind-blowing experience. The multi-media presentation interweaves the history of America with the history of Motown. From segregation, to the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Motown was there. Good times and bad, the music of Motown got us through, and it’s all captured on stage.
For me, I was struck by the Vietnam War segment. That was my generation of schoolmates who had to fight for our nation. The song, “War! What is it Good For?” was choreographed and performed in such a way that it and the video that accompanied it left a powerful impression.
It dawned on me that during the early days of Motown, when Berry Gordy had the nerve to give young, Black America a voice, it was a time of societal turbulence. Motown music brought Blacks and Whites together on the dance floor and you see it all unfold on stage.
“Motown the Musical” was thoughtfully, written, produced and directed. And it came as no surprise that it is a Berry Gordy vision and production. Gordy also wrote several of the original songs in the production.
One thing the musical did bring out was the anguish and pain Gordy suffered as he saw his dream being picked apart. “Motown the Musical” shared with us his darker moments. A Black man in America with a big dream is a dangerous thing, and when you see that dream impact the world, power players want a piece of it by any means necessary. Accusations of financial improprieties, the move to Los Angeles, being an independent label, and artists convinced they could make more money with the major labels all served to undo the Motown magic. And Berry Gordy had to face it all.
“Motown the Musical” is one of those productions you just have to see and experience and is now playing at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre through June 7. Visit www.motownthemusical.com for ticket information and more. Check out promotional videos at www.hollywoodbychoice.com.
Gail Choice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.