“Motown The Musical” – ASU Gammage

Theater Review – April 23, 2015

This review aired on KBAQ April 23, 2015



Broadway Across America – Arizona, ASU Gammage

Tempe, AZ

The roof of ASU Gammage just about blew off at the Tuesday night opening of “Motown The Musical.”  It’s one of the loudest shows I’ve ever witnessed but it was impossible not to love these songs when they are so brilliantly performed by such a talented ensemble within a compelling look at how the sound was crafted.

I don’t pretend to be an expert about the Motown pop music sound or the group’s song hits.  But the ingratiating production begins before the label’s launch by Berry Gordy who created the sound and carries through the label as it tells with a series of theatrical explosions about the legends that grew out of Motown.  This splashy, exuberantly performed, and dynamic production will turn anyone who sees it into a Motown lover.

The Motown sound is, of course, nothing like any Broadway musical you’ve ever heard before but the show is so much fun to watch as pulsating dances set off many of the tunes as excellent performers re-create the performing legends associated with Motown including Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, young stars like Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, and groups like The Supremes.  The performers essay these impressions with conviction, enthusiasm, and accuracy as they pull the audience into Motown’s creation.

The book by Gordy tells how the sound evolved, the political ramifications of the tunes on the then racially less tolerant ‘60s society when the label was born to the rapidly changing society that emerged before Motown ended in the ‘80s.  The over 60 hit tunes include such standards as “Please Mr. Postman, “Reach Out and Touch,” and “Stop in the Name of Love.”

The dynamic production is staged with verve by Charles Randolph-Wright and Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams created the throbbing choreography.  Slickly moving scenery gives the show a suave elegance and some scenes are staged in the audience.  There’s even one moment when an audience member participates with Allison Semmes who does an excellent job creating the great Ross.  Julius Thomas III plays Gordy with a devilish but sincere sparkle, Jesse Nager is a smooth Smokey Robinson, and Jarran Muse handles the ill-fated Marvin Gaye with stylish sophistication.

I didn’t see “Motown” in New York but a friend did and he attended with me opening night.  On Broadway, he saw understudies in every major role and he was disappointed in “Motown.”  The touring version at ASU Gammage gripped him unlike the New York performance he saw.  I had a blast at “Motown The Musical” that continues through Sunday.  For tickets, call the ASU Gammage Ticketmaster box office at 800-982-2787 or order tickets online at www.asugammage.com.

Grade: A

One Response to ““Motown The Musical” – ASU Gammage”

  1. T.Cantrell said:

    Apr 24, 15 at 00:16

    Saw Motown tonight. What in the world was going on with the sound? Either the music was so loud, or the back up singers mics were turned up too high, but hearing the lead singers was almost impossible.
    Loved the show. Dancing in my seat and singing along. Would have been perfect if the sound had been better. Loud is an understatement.