Valisia LeKae & Brandon Victor Dixon
Valisia LeKae & Brandon Victor Dixon
Joan Marcus
by: Sandi Durell
Don’t expect an in depth dramatic story about Berry Gordy, founder of Motown Records, nor the many names we treasure from the era made famous by the innumerable hit songs he recorded. That’s just not gonna happen! What will happen is a walk down Detroit’s memory lane of the 60s as we hear truncated versions of every song we love and meet the talent responsible. There’s lots of musical pizzazz happening at the Lunt Fontanne Theatre.
The storyline is thin; the show opens with a kaleidoscope of songs from the Four Tops and Temptations and all the glitz and moves of the 60s. Flash to the 25th Anniversary of Motown Records, as Berry Gordy is deciding if he’s going to attend the big celebration. After all, at this point, many of his stars had already left him for bigger money elsewhere and there were lots of hard feelings. Flash further back to Gordy as a boy who wanted to be Joe Louis – well, he turned out a fighter of a different kind during an era of racial strife, bringing “colored music” to white radio stations, “it’s what’s in the grooves that counts.”

When he went to his family and begged for $1000 to start up a record company, they weren’t too pleased, but gave “Junior” the money after he got Jackie Wilson to record “To Be Loved,” a song BG wrote. And so in Hitsville House, USA Gordy originally found Martha & The Vandellas, Smokey Robinson (Charl Brown), Marvin Gaye (Bryan Terrell Clark), a child called Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and The Supremes and a whole lot more!

The best barometer is when the audience cheers each time they hear their favorites: “ABC,” “Baby, I Need Your Lovin’,” “Dancing in the Street,” Happy Birthday” and about 50 more of Motown’s best – and they all were . . . the best!

The great voiced Brandon Victor Dixon (Tony Nominee, The Color Purple) plays Berry Gordy with a good mix of pepper and salt; his love affair and subsequent marriage and breakup with Diana Ross, a side story to all the famous songs by The Supremes and Diana Ross’ rise to stardom (Stop in the Name of Love, I Hear a Symphony, Where Did Our Love Go, Ain’t No Mountain Higher). Valisia LeKae (Book of Mormon) plays Ms. Ross with a softness and ethereal feel and vocal quality that is perfection. She also wears some of the most elaborate and exciting costumes, as do the rest of the cast, to the credit of Esosa.

Act 2 sees The Supremes at the Copa, the eventual breakup of the group as Diana Ross goes solo (Reach Out and Touch), as she makes her mark winning an Oscar playing the role of Billie Holiday and a new kid on the block enters the scene at Motown Records, a young Michael Jackson & The Jackson Five. Raymond Luke, Jr. plays little MJ and if you want to see a recreation and young talent extraordinaire, he’s reason enough to see “Motown the Musical.” The standout “white girl” in the show is Morgan James.

The choreography is by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams, with direction by Charles Randolph-Wright. There’s good scenic design by David Korins and lighting by Natasha Katz. The entire team has created magic.

Berry Gordy wrote the book for this production as a tribute to himself and the great artists and music of an era that changed American music. Think of this as a concert with some storyline vignettes thrown in and you won’t be disappointed. You’ll be singing and Dancing in the Street when you leave.