Photos: Pantages Media – JOAN MARCUS
After concluding its Broadway run, “MOTOWN THE MUSICAL” has finally made its way to the Hollywood Pantages for a limited six-week engagement, now through Sunday, June 7, 2015.
Over the past several years, a handful of Broadway musicals have served as great music history lessons. From “Jersey Boys” about the story of Frankie Vallie and the Four Seasons, to “Million Dollar Quartet,” and “Beautiful,” about Carole King. “MOTOWN THE MUSICAL” is an electrifying account of one of the best eras in music and the empire built by the legendary producer/songwriter, Berry Gordy.
One of the opening week performances at the Pantages was a very special one, with the Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson in attendance. As the curtains opened, the Motown hits came one after the other. We were transported to 1983 at the 25th anniversary celebration of Motown. The Temptations and The Four Tops battle on stage, weaving through songs such as “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch),” “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” “Baby I Need Your Loving,” “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” and more. The choreography and montage arrangements of songs set the tone for the show. It’s more about the music than the story.
As the audience is taken back to Berry Gordy Jr.’s (Leon Outlaw Jr.) childhood, everything moves very fast. We see the rise of Motown with Gordy (Julius Thomas III) and Smokey Robinson (Jesse Nager) producing and writing for singing sensations such as, Marvin Gaye (Jarran Muse), a young Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Tammi Terrell, and most importantly, Diana Ross (Allison Semmes). With little story development, major moments in Motown’s history are more like quick flashes as they breeze through issues of segregation, and the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. Eventually the story revolves around Gordy and Diana Ross. Aside from their romantic relationship, Gordy centered most of his energy on making Ross a superstar, which drove him into debt and later lead him to sell the independent company.
As the musical numbers are the heartbeat of this show, director Charles Randolph-Wright did a wonderful job of staging a perfect flow from one scene to the next. Choreographers, Patricia Wilcox (A Night with Janis Joplin) and Warren Adams (Toy Story) outdid themselves with outstanding dancing. Every turn and pivot was so true to the artists’ original choreography. Each number lit up the entire theater. The audience couldn’t help but move to the beat of over 40 classic hits which were featured, from “My Girl” to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
Julius Thomas III and Allison Semmesstarred as Gordy and Diana Ross. Semmes was a standout star of the cast with her beautiful voice, which had similar intonations to Ross’ actual vocals. Every cast member had powerhouse voices. Leon Outlaw Jr., who also portrayed young Berry Gordy and young Stevie Wonder, stood out as a young Michael Jackson.
While the story could use more depth and character development, “MOTOWN THE MUSICAL” is a wonderful experience that shows you what a hit-making empire Motown was.
Other featured cast members include: Erick Buckley, Patrice Covington, Jamarice Daughtry, Tamar Davis, Lynorris Evans, Melanie Evans, Anissa Felix, Devon Goffman, Jennie Harney, Rod Harrelson, Robert Hartwell, Rodney Earl Jackson, Jr., Trisha Jeffrey, Elijah Ahmad Lewis, Jarvis B. Manning, Jr., Krisha Marcano, Marq Moss, Rashad Naylor, Chadaè Nichol, Ramone Owens, Nicholas Ryan, Jamison Scott, Joey Stone, Doug Storm, Martina Sykes and Galen J. Williams.
Scenic design by David Korins (Bring It On: The Musical, Annie), costume design by Tony Award® nominee ESosa (The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, “Project Runway”), lighting design by Tony Award® winner Natasha Katz (Once, Sister Act), sound design by Tony Award® nominee Peter Hylenski (Rock of Ages, The Scottsboro Boys), projection design by Daniel Brodie (Jekyll and Hyde), hair and wig design by Charles LaPointe (Memphis) and casting by Telsey + Company.
MOTOWN THE MUSICAL is planning a UK production for spring 2016 and a Broadway return for summer 2016.
Tickets are now on sale and are available for purchase at www.HollywoodPantages.com or www.Ticketmaster.com, by phone at 800-982-2787, and at the Hollywood Pantages Box Office (6233 Hollywood Boulevard). The box office opens daily at 10am except for Holidays.
The performance schedule is Tuesday through Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm & 8pm, and Sunday at 1pm & 6:30pm. Opening Night is Thursday, April 30, 2015 at 8pm.
Individual tickets at $25. Prices are subject to change without notice.