The toe-tapping, hand-clapping and incredibly soulful national tour of “Motown the Musical,” presented by the Victoria Theatre Association’s Premier Health Broadway Series, continues through Sunday, April 16 at the Schuster Center.
Nominated for four 2013 Tony Awards, “Motown” chronicles the highs and lows of the iconic Detroit-based record label founded by Berry Gordy (vividly portrayed by Chester Gregory of Broadway’s “Sister Act” and “Tarzan”). Using the framework of the label’s famed 25th anniversary concert in 1983, the show depicts how Gordy meticulously molded the careers of some of the most influential African-American artists in recording history including Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, and Michael Jackson. Nearly 60 classic songs accent the story which breezily follows the label through eventful periods of joy, promise, heartbreak, and turmoil.
Here are four reasons why you should see this entertaining crowd-pleaser, which is notably staged by Dayton native Schele Williams who served as associate director on the original Broadway production working closely with Gordy and director Charles Randolph-Wright.
THERE’S MORE TO THE STORY
Based on Gordy’s 1994 book “To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, The Memories of Motown,” “Motown” is by no means a tribute concert. The music certainly bolsters the action, but Gordy doesn’t cheat the audience by simply letting the songs tell the story. Although he stood by his creed stating “competition breeds champions,” Gordy faced considerable adversity. He frankly details the infighting, jealousy, racism, contractual predicaments, financial calamites, and misunderstandings that occurred. Interestingly, he devotes significant time to his relationship with Diana Ross (a wonderfully engaging and elegant Allison Semmes dazzlingly costumed by “Project Runway” finalist Emilio Sosa), but thankfully other key players get their due. “At Motown, we called ourselves a family,” Gordy says in the show’s production notes. “And we were – a big family.”
ACTORS EMBODY SPIRIT OF LEGENDS
The cast of “Motown,” which includes Wright State University graduate Jeremy Gaston of Springfield, is uniquely required to portray individuals firmly cemented in the hearts and minds of generations of music lovers. Moreover, many of these legendary artists are still alive. However, the challenge is handled skillfully from the aforementioned Gregory and Semmes (who starred in the show’s 2016 Broadway return engagement) to the quietly endearing David Kaverman as tunesmith Smokey Robinson. “Smokey is a cool dude with a poet’s heart,” Kaverman said. “I’m capturing his essence –not impersonating him. Smokey is very charismatic and star quality exudes from him. He did so much for Motown, particularly bringing many acts from the neighborhood to the label like The Supremes. But the director and creative team (stressed the importance) that we are playing real people with real personalities who had real input. Every moment in the show is a moment that actually happened and has weight. Berry Gordy gave us notes on how to portray the characters as well. I also met Smokey Robinson when the tour was in L.A. so it was great to get his stamp of approval.”
NOSTALGIA FUELED BY CAVALCADE OF HITS
Martha and the Vandellas said it best: “All you need is music, sweet music.” And you can’t get any better than the cavalcade of hits in this showcase, vibrantly choreographed by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams, including “Dancing in the Street,” “Shop Around,” “My Guy,” “You’re All I Need to Get By,” “Please, Mr. Postman,” “Get Ready,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “What’s Going On,” “Reach Out (I’ll Be There),” “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” “Stop in the Name of Love,” and “My Girl.” “The music is so nostalgic,” Kaverman noted. “People gravitate toward music they heard in their teens or 20s and that describes our audience. The music really captured a romanticized sense of love as well. The music still pervades our culture today because it’s so good. Whether you hear these songs on the radio or in a grocery store, they will always be with us and in us as Americans.”
A SPECIAL SING-A-LONG
Adhering to the fact that music is a universal and unifying language, “Motown” brings the audience to the forefront in Act 2. Semmes’ charming rendition of “Reach Out and Touch” evolves into a heartwarming sing-a-long bound to leave a smile on your face. “Hearing the audience sing and wave their hands is a beautiful moment,” Kaverman said. “People who typically go to church might be used to acknowledging the person next to them, but it rarely happens in the theater. It’s a moment that allows the audience to understand that we’re all in this world and this country and this show together. It’s a message of togetherness that’s very creative.”
“Motown the Musical” concludes today at the Schuster Center, Second and Main Streets, Dayton. Performances are at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $30-$97. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit ticketcenterstage.com.