Motown: The Musical | The Fabulous Fox Theatre

Motown-the-Musical 75As a jukebox musical, it is exceptional.

Motown-the-Musical 500

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into Motown: The Musical. As someone who was only alive for two years of the span of time covered by the musical—the first 25 years of Motown—I didn’t grow up during the time that Motown evolved from Berry Gordy’s dream to the musical powerhouse it eventually became. I grew up with the music—as did most of my generation—but I didn’t experience the juxtaposition of the growth of Motown and how society was changing. However, the musical proved to be both enjoyable and informative. There was enough to the show about the cultural significance of Motown to inform the audience that may not have been around or aware when it was actually happening.

As a jukebox musical, it is exceptional. The songs are as good as they’ve ever been and the musicianship of the performers is on target. It made me wish, in a way, for a time when music performance was more about bowties than stripper poles. There is a warmth and excitement to the music and the culture that grew up around Motown that is enviable, considering the music industry today. The performers, though also in the generation of those who did not grow up during Motown’s heyday, convey the thrill of the music that so many people love.

Jesse Nager’s Smokey Robinson is outstanding, and the interplay between Clifton Oliver’s Berry Gordy and Jarran Muse’s Marvin Gaye is powerful, but fun to watch. The discussion between them that led to the release of Gaye’s 1971 album What’s Going On was important as it was one of the times there was a direct connection on the stage and a showing of the cultural impact that Motown had. The story presented on the stage about the release—Gordy resisted releasing it because he felt it too political—is true. In fact, Gaye released the single for “What’s Going On” without Gordy’s knowledge, and it sold 200,000 copies before Gordy even knew what had happened. He then gave Gaye permission to finish the album and Motown would release it.

With that in mind, it is important to see the musical for what it is—a memoir of, and written by, the man who founded Motown. The storyline is based on fact, but in a way, it is a sanitized version of it. Gordy’s relationship with Diana Ross is depicted as a sweet romance that develops over time, starting from their first meeting when Ross is still a teenager. What the musical does not cover is the child they had together, while Ross was married to another man. There is also sadness there, because within a year of the celebration of the first 25 years of Motown, Marvin Gaye was dead at 44.

The show, though, is largely a celebration, and it succeeds at that. The creation and growth of Motown is something to be admired and celebrated. The dream of Berry Gordy became a crucial part of both musical and cultural history. The joy the performers take in telling the story is evident, and it was a great show to see. | Teresa Montgomery

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