Monday, February 6, 2017

Where to Be Merry: Motown the Musical @ The Pantages Theatre, Hollywood

Motown the Musical returns to Los Angeles with a run at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. Shows are daily (except for Monday, Feb. 6) until Sunday, Feb. 12. 

Motown the Musical serves as the biography of Berry Gordy, Jr., the founder of Motown, the record label that literally shaped the sound of American music in the late ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. However, while his life account may be the main storyline of this musical, hands down, it’s not the focal point. Instead, the scores of Motown hits — more than 50 in total — are at the center of this three-hour-long production.

Indeed, the show underscores Motown favorites, with each character anxiously waiting to break into the next song. Dialogue — while quick, witty and lighthearted — seems to fall secondary to tunes like “Do You Love Me” and “You’re All I Need to Get By.”

However, that’s not to say that the various plot highlights aren’t fascinating in their own right. It’s interesting to learn how Gordy, played by Chester Gregory (pictured below), first got his break into the music industry by writing for Jackie Wilson. And how Gordy came up with the name “Motown.”

The numerous trial and tribulations that Gordy and Motown faced aren’t left out either — hardships like Gordy having to initially borrow $800 from his family to launch the record label and being countersued by his writing team, Holland–Dozier–Holland.

It’s also revealed how pivotal moments in American history affected Gordy, the label and his artists. One scene in particular shows the genesis of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues.” Gordy and Gaye (Jarran Muse, pictured below) are in Gordy’s office, having a heated debate on whether or not Gaye should release the song. In the end, although he has his reservations, Gordy shares that he trusts Gaye’s decision to produce the song, and as we all know, the rest is history. 

The musical shares how Gordy met Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5 and the Primettes, who were eventually renamed The Supremes. The cast also eloquently portrays the Four Tops, Teena Marie, Rick James, The Marvelettes, The Miracles, The Temptations, The Contours and the Commodores.

Speaking of the cast, they dazzle in their period costumes that are so detailed, from the ‘60s bouffant hairdos down to the sparkling gowns and sharp suits. And while nothing can compare to the real Marvin Gaye’s sensual crooning or the actual Smokey Robinson’s clear melodic voice, the cast does a respectable job of replicating songs and performing intricate and soulful choreographed dances. The Jackson 5, led by the young Michael Jackson (CJ Wright) did incredible renditions of “ABC,” “I Want You Back” and “Who’s Loving You.”

The set itself also impresses, accurately capturing the look and feel of each decade and location. We are literally transported to Paris with Gordy and Diana Ross (Allison Semes), as they sit at a romantic dinner with the Eiffel Tower and soft twinkling lights in the background. 

With the actual Gordy as a co-producer of the show, Motown the Musical feels as though it’s providing an insider’s perspective into what it was like to be part of one of the most legendary, prolific record labels in the U.S., if not the world. It’s almost three hours of upbeat songs sprinkled with interesting musical facts. A must to see for anyone who loves Motown music!

For more information: 

All photos (except the first and last) courtesy of Motown the Musical website.

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