Motown the Musical | The Fabulous Fox

Go for the fantastic performances, stay for that classic Motown sound.

The Fabulous Fox keeps the hits coming with its current production of Motown the Musical. Having played St. Louis for the first time in 2014, the show makes its triumphant return to the Gateway City—and not a moment too soon. In light of the passing of rock icon Chuck Berry, I was in much need of some musical therapy to sooth my hurting soul. This production of Motown the Musical served that function as it reminded me of how timeless and healing soulful music is for the soul.

The story centers around legendary music producer and creator of that “Motown sound,” Barry Gordy (Chester Gregory). Motown is celebrating its 25th anniversary and all of the stars from the label including Diana Ross (Allison Semmes), Smokey Robinson (David Kaverman), and a host of others have assembled to celebrate the momentous occasion. Gordy is reluctant to attend the celebration as his legendary roster of stars have abandoned him in the past for more lucrative labels.

The main storyline of the show is how Gordy got the idea to open a label, how he invested his time, passion, and money into each of his musical acts only to have them turn on him over time as they are courted away by bigger labels. But the show features a plethora of musical landmarks that help paint the picture of how each of these stars—including The Supremes, The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye (Jarran Muse), The Temptations, and The Four Tops—got their shot a fame.

The show also deals with social issues such as overt racism, radical political events, and the torrid love affair between Diana Ross and Gordy. The latter is what I really enjoyed watching as Gordy nurtured Ross as part of The Supremes, then convinced her to go solo, then put her career on the path of super-stardom only to be ultimately abandoned by the Boss. While there is plenty of betrayal to go around, the common thread of the show is how the music of Motown united all of these artists and attempted to unite all Americans regardless of color.

The music of the show takes centerstage—as it should. When songs like, “ I Hear a Symphony,” “Who’s Loving You,” and “ABC” graced the stage, I could feel the cracks in my soul start to heal. These songs are timeless and transport me back to a more innocent time in my life. While these were some of my favorites of the 40+ songs in the production, St. Louis seemed to react to all of the songs positively in one manor or another.

Some of the other musical high points of the show were Semmes’ emotional performance of “Reach Out and Touch”—complete with audience participation; Muse’s phenomenal performance of “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)” during which I fully expected some woman’s undergarment to be thrown on the stage; and the mind-blowing choreography in the performance of “War.” In fact, all of Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams’ choreography was eye-catching and intricate. The movements during each dance number helped enhance the already impressive music.  

Gregory, as Gordy, was dominant. He portrayed the music mogul sensationally as he gave his performance the necessary attitude and machismo. And once again, his vocal performance of “To Be Loved” nearly brought the house down. Semmes, as Ross, was spectacular. She embodied the spirit of the legendary singer with her heavenly vocals and charming disposition. It was hard to take my eyes off the talented actress as she filled the large concert hall with her outstanding vocals. The rest of cast all turned in equally impressive performances with special mentions for Muse’s Gaye, Kaverman’s Robinson, and especially Raymond Davis Jr. as younger versions of Barry Gordy, Stevie Wonder, and the legend of all legends, Michael Jackson. Davis completely nailed each of his roles, but the audience went all in during his portrayal of Jackson. The kid has charisma and the voice of a cherub.

Visually, David Korin’s sets were eye-catching; Project Runway’s Emilo Sosa’s costumes were fun to gaze at; and Natasha Katz’s lighting design was dazzling to watch. While the audio levels were a bit jarring from time to time, this facet was easy to overlook as the performers compensated as best they could. It’s surely a constant challenge to run mics for a cast this large.

Motown the Musical is a fascinating look at the birth (and decline) of one of music’s most legendary labels. While the stars have come and gone, their music will live on forever. I don’t care if you do the mashed potato, the jerk, or hell, you can even do the Freddie all the way to The Fabulous Fox box office, just make sure you get on down while the show is still in town. Motown the Musical  is a must-see for the true music lover. Go for the fantastic performances, stay for that classic Motown sound. | Jim Ryan

Motown the Musical plays at The Fabulous Fox through March 26. Please visit for show times and ticket prices.

Photo: Joan Marcus

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