Photo by Joan Marcus
“Motown The Musical” plays the Songs of Your Life
By Skip Sheffield
The music of Motown Records is truly the soundtrack for a generation. In fact the records of Detroit’s “Hitsville USA” have transcended generations.
You can experience this firsthand by seeing “Motown The Musical,” running through March 8 at Broward Center for the Arts.
This “Juke Box Musical" is centered around the story of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, Jr. The story begins in 1938, when as a child Berry, called “Junior” by his family, was inspired by the boxing victory of Joe Louis over Max Schmeling. Louis was black. Schmeling was white, and a German to boot at a time when Nazis were overrunning Europe. Gordy realized a young black boy could dream big and accomplish big things. The book for “Motown the Musical” is based on Gordy’s book “To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, The Memories of Motown.”
Yes, Gordy dreamed big. He had a big ego as well. We see that as the story flashes forward to 1983 in Los Angeles for an onstage celebration of Motown’s 25th anniversary, starring Motown’s brightest stars. By this time most of Motown’s stars had left the label for better offers. Angry and resentful, Gordy was balking at appearing at his own celebration.
Gordy is played by Clifton Oliver as an adult and Leon Outlaw, Jr. as a child. Outlaw will return in act two to steal the show as young Michael Jackson. This kid is nothing short of phenomenal.
All of the cast is strong; particularly Motown loyalist and prolific songwriter Smokey Robinson, as portrayed by Jesse Nager. Providing a foil for Gordy is Jarran Muse as the temperamental singer-songwriter Marvin Gaye.
The female lead with the most stage time is Alison Semmes as Diana Ross. Like the real Diana, Semmes is petite, pretty and delicate, with a honey-sweet voice. She is also quite the fashion plate, with one dazzling dress after another. The outstanding costumes of both the men and women are part of what makes “Motown” so much fun. The real delight is the catalog of some 60 hit songs, performed rapidly with smooth dance moves over the course of two and a half hours. It would be pointless to list titles, because there are so many. One thing for sure; you will recognize the tunes, and they will bring a smile to your face.
Tickets start at $34.75. Call TicketMaster at 800-745-3000 or go to www.browardcenter.org.