I had the recent opportunity to experience Motown like I hadn’t before in the form of “Motown the Musical” which was a thrill ride in and of itself. I don’t get a chance to go to musicals or Broadway shows much but have to say this was definitely worth the outing and left me with more of a desire to experience some of the Motown music that I witnessed on stage. Admittedly, I’m at the age where I caught the end of Motown so, though I’d heard most of the songs before, I still felt surprise at some of the tunes and found myself re-discovering an interest in 60s/70s genre R&B. The show had different acts such as the Jackson 5 and Stevie Wonder which I really didn’t pick up on till I was an adult. Really if it hadn’t been for my older siblings, television and perhaps even my parents, I wouldn’t really know much about any of those groups because of the time that I was born. We know that Motown at some point became defunct but it managed to continue on in some form for quite a while even into the 80s and beyond which is evidenced by this particular Musical. In any case it was a very fun afternoon to get out with my wife and just enjoy the musical at the Cadillac Theater in Chicago.
First thing I would have to say is that on the regular I am not prone to seek out musicals. I’m always a little nervous about attending them because I don’t really know what to expect. In other words I’m a little more used to digital entertainment such as going to the movie theater or streaming content. When it comes to live performances, sometimes I can be a little skeptical as to how well it’ll be played. I think the beauty of it is, and the important thing is that when you get a chance to see a live performance and when they’re well-executed it becomes even more valuable an experience because you actually get to see artists in their purest form and at their best. “Motown the Musical” is no exception and I have to say that everyone who performed and acted in it did an amazing job in portraying their respective characters from Berry Gordy, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson and the like.
Of course the musical started off with an introduction that shows Berry Gordy at his peak and during the golden age of Motown. We get a glimpse of him talking to one of his assistants who was helping him produce current acts in a show. Immediately following this interaction, we get a full flashback of Gordy as a child where we get a glimpse into his brilliant mind at that early stage in his life. I appreciated this format because it at least gave me something that I was used to seeing on a regular basis and helped me to settle into what to expect from the show. I should mention again that I’m not a huge fan of musicals due to the fact that there’s continuous breaks in the spoken narrative, but in this particular instance I think the way it was executed gave the viewers an opportunity to grasp onto the familiar in the form of different Motown acts and classic songs. This is one of the big differences in seeing this particular play versus seeing others where you don’t know what to expect from the content if you’ve never heard it before. This in and of itself made it a more pleasant viewing experience because, not only was I seeing a great performance from really good actors and actresses, but I was also taken back to a nostalgic time in my life. Many times the audience would begin singing along and swaying back and forth and what not…cool.
Before I continue on with what I thought was good about this particular show, I should point out that there have been different renditions of this musical and this one is slightly different from previous runs. With that said I will say that the singing was very good with everyone hitting their cue with clarity and great depth of emotion. This of course is important for any musical and in that sense every one of the actors we’re on point. For the acting portion of it, it was in typical play fashion I think. What I mean is that it carried a stiffer tone to it then you would actually see on a television show or movie. I think that’s because of the format itself in the sense that the actors work to project their voices the best they can in order for the audience to understand and here with clarity. Other than that, they all did a good job of acting their parts and expressing a certain level of emotion. For example, one particular moment was when the actress who plays Diana Ross came out to the audience and asked for participation on a couple of the songs. She was so into character and had everyone swinging back and forth, laughing and rejoicing all the same time. It was very involved and very effective. I felt the emotion deeply and her portrayal of Diana Ross was authentic. As far as the dance choreography which was certainly critical in a show such as this, it was fantastic to see the actors portray different Motown Acts such as the Supremes, the Commodores, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Rick James, Stevie Wonder and the Jackson 5 amongst other brief appearances. Most of the story centered around Diana Ross and Supremes and around the relationship between Ross and Gordy as well as the close friendship of Gordy and Smokey Robinson. It was interesting, not knowing the history of Motown previous to viewing the play, to find out that this was the actual history of Motown and what went on in its golden age.
Honestly I have to say that on the negative side, there wasn’t much to note except for the fact that there just simply wasn’t enough Stevie Wonder or Jackson 5 within the show. I mean, seriously, the audience went nuts when Michael came out of the stage… more please? All the actors that were involved in both those performing artists and groups did a great job in depicting those characters but as I see it, there just wasn’t enough of them in there and I think I speak for most when I say that there definitely could have been more of the Jackson 5 which would have elevated the show to the next level.
All-in-all a positive experience and worth the invested time and money when the show comes to a town near you. If nothing else, attending this show has motivated me to check out more live entertainment, something that Chicago has plenty of. Any good shows you’ve been to lately. Comment below and let us know of your experiences.