Motown The Musical presented by Broadway Across Canada at the Jubilee Auditorium and it was simply terrific! Okay, I'm a major Motown fan, so I was thrilled by the song list, but I also only enjoy it when it's well done and in this show everything was simply perfect! When you are presenting so many iconic songs and artists it can be a challenge because everyone has expectations, but this production certainly rose to that challenge and met it handily!
Motown The Musical is a jukebox show, using the story of Berry Gordy Jr.'s life and decision to "be the best Berry Gordy Jr. he could be" by creating the iconic music sound that came to be known as Motown. The shows uses a framing device of a 25th Anniversary Television special where all the artists he worked with have come back to perform but there is some question as to whether Gordy (played by Kenneth Mosley, who has a phenomenal voice and impressive stage presence) will show up. To explain why he might not, the show whisks us back in time to his beginnings and through the course of his life up to the moment of the TV show. The scenes are quick and loose, but this provides opportunity for us to meet and hear many of the now legendary artists he worked with and whose careers he arguably managed to success.
We also get a glimpse into the romance between Gordy and Diana Ross (Trenyce). This relationship gets the most stage time and we get a first hand look at the molding of Ross by Gordy from Supreme, to front woman, to solo artist and to movie star. Trenyce does a beautiful job of channeling the diva both in her scenes and her songs, without stooping to caricature. The best book scenes are the ones between Mosley and Trenyce, and she truly captures Diana Ross in both sound and gesture.
Like most jukebox shows, most of the scenes are quick sketches, giving us the feeling of what happened, but the quickness interspersed with the performances of the songs and their shifting tone manages to paint a picture of how Motown helped to contribute to the advancement of civil rights. There's a big shift both musically and culturally from My Guy to Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology), and yes, this is a musical, but it tells you something when you are confronted with the fact that just a few decades ago artists of colour wouldn't even get played on certain radio stations. I'm pretty sure if I turned on the radio right now there's a good chance I would be hearing Rihanna or Bruno Mars. I'm glad for that.
Anyhow, if you want a terrific night of music - fast paced, with excellent dancing, and charismatic performers, this is definitely a show to see, particularly if you love that Motown sound! There is something special about seeing a show where you know all the songs. I expect to feel the same way when I see Mamma Mia! next week at the Citadel, but that collective connection to the pop-culture really allows you to step right in and just enjoy the experience.
Motown The Musical runs to February 18th at the Jubilee Auditorium.
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