Last night, Detroit’s Fisher Theatre felt like one big Homecoming parade for “Motown the Musical.” All of Detroit’s finest home-grown celebrities were there, decked out in their finest threads, and proud to revisit the glory days when Berry Gordy’s recording studio introduced the world to some of the greatest recording artists of all time. But the pre-show Red Carpet festivities were nothing compared to the post-show curtain event.
The crowd was already giving a jubilant standing ovation to the amazing cast when they invited their real-life counterparts – Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Martha Reeves and other legends – to join them on the stage. It was a Motown moment for the history books and a moving tribute to Mr. Gordy, whose Motown Records revolutionized the new sound and put Detroit on the musical map. And it was nice for that Detroit audience, who could stand, applaud, cheer, and express their gratitude to Gordy and all of those artists who provided so many memories over the years.
It’s fitting, of course, that this event was staged at the Fisher Theatre on Grand Boulevard – just a few blocks east of Hitsville USA, where Berry Gordy set up shop and recorded groups like the Supremes in the now famous Studio A. Because that’s what “Motown the Musical” is all about. It’s the story of a young man’s dream to bring people together by giving them a new sound – a Detroit sound – worth savouring, sharing and celebrating. In a time frame bracketed by assassinations, race riots and the Vietnam war, Motown was the first to break the barrier of “race” music and become something the whole world could dance to.
The play traces Berry Gordy’s rise to become a true music mogul – but wisely lets the story come through as a revue-type showcase of more than 40 Motown favourites – made famous by Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Martha Reeves, and many, many more. The show opens and closes at the 1983 25th Anniversary Motown television special, produced by Motown Records’ Suzanne de Passe and taped before a live studio audience at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. Among its highlights were appearances by Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, and a “battle of the bands” duel between the Temptations and the Four Tops.
The cast of this national touring company – which has the daunting task of recreating the artistry of some of the most brilliant performers of all time – does an incredible job. Clifton Oliver and Allison Semmes feel perfect in the leading roles of Berry Gordy and Diana Ross. Ms. Semmes nails that sweet, slightly nasal voice that made Ms. Ross such a stand out. Nicholas Christopher plays the fabulous singer songwriter and loyal friend Smokey Robinson. And Jarran Muse is spot on as sexy Marvin Gaye. Leon Outlaw, Jr. and Reed L. Shannon alternate in the juvenile roles, playing Berry Gordy as a boy as well as the young stars Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. Reed L. Shannon performed for the show last night, and blew the crowd away with his “Michael.”
“Motown The Musical” also features one of the most talented ensemble’s around – singers and dancers who perform in multiple roles as everyone from Jackie Wilson to Rick James. This includes: Erick Buckley, Patrice Covington, Christian Dante White, Jamarice Daughtry, Tamar Davis, Lynorris Evans, Melanie Evans, Devon Goffman, Jennie Harney, Latrisa Harper, Rod Harrelson, Robert Hartwell, Rodney Earl Jackson, Jr., Trisha Jeffrey, Grasan Kingsberry, Elijah Ahmad Lewis, Jarvis Manning, Krisha Marcano, Marq Moss, Rashad Naylor, Chadaè Nichol, Ramone Owens, Nicholas Rowe, Jamison Scott, Douglas Storm, Martina Sykes and Galen Williams.
MOTOWN is produced by Tony Award-winning producer Kevin McCollum (Rent, In the Heights, Avenue Q), Chairman and CEO of SONY Music Entertainment Doug Morris, and of course, the star of the show and Motown founder, Berry Gordy.
“This is where it all began,” said Mr. Gordy. “I am incredibly proud of this show and thrilled to share our story with those of you who already know it and, even more, with a new generation of Detroiters.”
In “Motown the Musical,” Elijah Ahmad Lewis as Stevie Wonder takes it home with a nostalgic performance of “I Wish” as the cast and audience joined in. Last night, after the curtain call, the real Stevie Wonder reprised the number. The crowd responded with the enthusiasm and ecstatic joy of a downtown church congregation joining the choir…
“I wish those days could come back once more. Why did those days ever have to go, ‘cause I loved them so.”
“Motown the Musical” is part of the 2014-2015 Broadway In Detroit series and runs through November 16, 2014 at the Fisher Theatre, located at 3011 West Grand Blvd., in Detroit. Tuesday through Saturday evening performances at 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m.; Sunday evening performance are at 7:30 p.m.; and there will be a special matinee show on Thursday, October 30 matinee at 1 p.m. There will not be a performance on Halloween, Friday, October 31. Tickets range from $39 – $95 (includes parking and facility fees) and go on sale Friday, July 18 at 10 a.m. at all Ticketmaster locations, by phone at 1-800-982-2787, online and at the Fisher Theatre box office. For group sales (12 or more) email email@example.com or call (313) 871-1132.