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Motown, the Musical. Performing the Jackson 5. Photo: Joan Marcus

Motown, the Musical. Book by Berry Gordy; music and lyrics from the legendary Motown catalog . Broadway Across Canada in association with Work Light Productions. Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright/ Plays Southam Hall, National Arts Centre

The musical legacy of the remarkable growth of Motown speaks for itself through this jukebox musical — which is just as well because the book by Motown founder Berry Gordy is nothing to write home about.

Based on Gordy’s 1994 memoir, The Music, The Magic, The Memories of Motown, the storyline sketches the history of the rise and fall of the record label that turned into a cultural phenomenon through the many hits that the Detroit-based company punched out in the 1960s and 70s. Motown almost single-handedly made black artists mainstream as the U.S. passed through an era punctuated by the assassinations of President John F, Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King and race riots.

A tribute show to past glory days, Motown the Musical offers memories of such recording artists as Diana Ross, Smoky Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Mary Wells and a young Michael Jackson, as well as numerous well-known groups of the era. As directed by Charles Randolph-Wright, conducted by Darryl Archibald and choreographed by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams, presentation is fast moving, slick, colourful but way too noisy for my taste. Set changes are impressively fluid and visuals are powerful. The general impression is akin to rapidly changing videos on TV’s Much Music channel.

The high-energy performers, led by Chester Gregory as Berry Gordy and Allison Semmes as Diana Ross, recreate the pop classics that clearly continue to resonate with the audience. While the attempt to fit the show into a frame by beginning and ending with a celebration of Motown’s silver anniversary is not entirely successful, the high production values and the well disciplined delivery by talented performers allow the Motown hits to shine once more in “Hitsville, U.S.A.”

Motown the Musical continues at the National Arts Centre to July 30.

Director:  Charles Randolph-Wright

Music Supervision: Ethan Papp

Conductor: Darryl Archibald

Choreographers: Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams

Set: David Korins

Lighting: Natasha Katz

Sound:Peter Hylenski

Projections: Daniel Brodie

Costumes: Emilio Sosa

 

Cast:

Berry Gordy…………………………………………….Chester Gregory

Diana Ross………………………………………………Allison Semmes

Smokey Robinson………………………………………David Kaverman

Marvin Gaye……………………………………………Jarran Muse

Young Berry/Stevie Wonder/Michael Jackson…………Raymond David Jr./C.J. Wright

 

Ensemble: Michael Armwood, Judith Franklin, Jeremy Gaston, Garfield Hammonds, LaTrisa Harper, Jared Howelton, Louis James Jackson, Elijah Ahmad Lewis, Jasmine Maslanova-Brown, Ramone Owens, Devin L. Price, Tavia Rivée, Kimberly Ann Steele, Doug Storm, Daniel Robert Sullivan, Gabriella Whiting, Ricardo A. Zayas

Dance captain………………………………….Rod Harrelson

Asst. dance captain…………………………….Ramone Owens

Orchestra:

Conductor and keyboard………………………Darryl Archibald

Asst. conductor and keyboard………………….Jennifer Oikawa

Drums………………………………………….Trevor Holder

Guitars…………………………………………Chris Thigpen and David Matos