There was a time when Detroit rolled out great big cars, and an even bigger sound. The music of the Motor City was humming in everyone’s ears, and playing “with a brand new beat” on and off the Billboard charts.
Berry Gordy’s memoirs turned into “Motown The Musical,” now at the Lunt-Fontaine Theatre, based on Gordy’s book To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, The Memories of Motown, are condensed to bring us up to the 25th Motown Reunion in 1983. His Hitsville USA studios brought an exciting new formula to
pop music. Motown records was modeled after the assembly lines of Detroit automobile factories where Gordy had worked.
Berry Gordy, Jr.’s (Brandon Victor Dixon) glam vision added lavish costumes and complicated dance moves to the “short stories,” as he put, in the songs his writers created. Gordy gave each of his groups their own persona– “The Temptations,” “The Vandellas,” with Martha Reeves (Saycon Sengbloh) at the helm “The Supremes,” with Diana Ross (Valisia LeKae) and Smokey Robinson’s (Charl Brown) “Miracles.”
|Brandon Victor Dixon, center, as Berry Gordy Jr., with cast. Photo by Joan Marcus|
“Motown The Musical” is a cover of many of the great hits Gordy’s studio produced over the years. With success came disappointments. The Supremes’ songwriting team of Holland, (Daniel J. Watts as Eddie), Dozier (Julius Thomas III as Lamont), Holland, (Eric LaJuan Summers as Brian) were among the first of many defections from the Motown labels. As soon as the acts Gordy cultivated gained popularity, a big studio swept in to gobble them up.
|Sydney Morton as Florence Ballard, Valisia LeKae as Diana Ross and Ariana DeBose as Mary Wilson — aka The Supremes with Brandon Victor Dixon as Berry Gordy, Jr. Photo by Joan Marcus|
Berry Gordy’s friend, Smokey Robinson, remained loyal, writing and recording many of the famous tunes from Motown. His early chart-topping songs was “My Guy,” which gave Mary Wells early success, soon followed by the iconic “My Girl.”
“Motown The Musical” is part revue, part Awards Tribute show, and part an evening at the Palladium. With the grandiloquent flair Gordy demonstrated as an impresario, “Motown The Musical” is visually splendid. The choreographic numbers, by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams, from the celebratory dance after Joe Louis’s victory bout in 1938 to the smart-stepping moves of the Temptations, put a lively time-stamp on each scene. David Korins, sets, and Esosa, costumes, add their eye-catching verisimilitude to the timeline.
Was Motown an integral part of the civil rights movement? Or did the Motown moment coincide with great and necessary changes in the social fabric of America? Gordy did not intend to be a force for equality; he just wanted to make music that would move everyone. His talent for making money and spending it was legendary. Gordy’s skill in business meant he could cover the costs of his extravagances. Gordy fell in love with one of his players, and sacrificed a great deal to make Diana Ross a big star. With this part of the tale, “Motown The Musical” could be seen as a kind of “A Star is Born-Lite.”
Its story line is a little weak, but its production values are high and very stylish.
(There’s more review at http://www.vevlynspen.com/2013/05/gordy-tell-his-story-his-way-in-motown.html.)
For more information on “Motown The Musical,” visit http://www.motownthemusical.com/.