Thursday, April 23, 2015

reviews - MOTOWN: THE MUSICAL - National Tour, ASU: Gammage

Krisha Marcano, Allison Semmes, and Trisha Jeffrey
(photo: Joan Marcus)
"Motown the Musical is a crowd pleasing journey through the creation of Motown Records with a non-stop parade of the enormous number of hit songs that founder Berry Gordy released. The national tour of the Broadway production has come to Tempe for a week long run and the show, though it does have its shortcomings, has an exceptional cast that brings over 50 well-known songs to vibrant life.     Unfortunately, there is very little drama or tension in the piece beyond those related to the struggle to make hit records, the financial issues Gordy encountered as a result of changes in the music industry, and whether or not Gordy will appear at the 25th anniversary concert of the label that frames the show. Also, with the inclusion of so many songs, it forces many to be sung in truncated versions or as part of a medley. While Ross, Robinson, and Gaye do get special attention, the abundant other performers in the show, from The Four Tops to the Temptations, Martha and the Vandellas, Mary Wells, the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, and the Jackson Five, just to name a few, don't get much stage time, with many of them reduced to short cameo appearances. But those quibbles aside, you can't question the influence that Gordy had in the music industry, so the end result is of one man's story for success and the never-ending stream of songs that most likely would never have become the hits they did without him.  Julius Thomas III brings a clear drive for success to the part of Gordy. He also has a beautiful voice that he shows off to great effect on the numerous songs he is given to sing. Allison Semmes has Diana Ross' well-known, soft, seductive voice down perfectly and her soaring vocals elevate the numerous Supremes hits as well as a couple of Ross' solo songs. While Jesse Nager is used mostly for comic effect as the high pitched voiced and always late Smokey Robinson, he manages a sweet nature for the part that shows his never-ending devotion to Gordy. Jarran Muse brings the right serious tone to Marvin Gaye with his questioning nature and desire to push the limits. Muse also sings stellar versions of "What's Going On" and "Mercy, Mercy Me," the latter having a brilliant a capella start. While Motown the Musical may struggle a bit in the book scenes, they fortunately are never too long and, even though Gordy is mainly represented in a positive way, we do still witness some of his shortcomings. So even with those few negative aspects, the joy of hearing the catalog of Motown hits performed by a stellar cast proves that while Motown may not be a spectacular musical it still results in a spectacular live event." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

"Jersey Boys has the Four Seasons and Beautiful has Carole King, but in the competitive league of jukebox musicals, Motown the Musical has the ultimate dream team. The Temptations. The Supremes. Marvin Gaye. Stevie Wonder. The Jackson 5. And those are just the starters. With 60 songs listed in the program — only a handful are performed in full — it's the ultimate hit parade. As for drama, well, it's pretty thin fare, but with a soundtrack like this, who cares?  The story spans 25 years from the launch of Motown Records in Detroit in 1959. To be fair, there's a lot of ground to cover, and the talented touring cast does an admirable job of creating compelling characters in the short scenes that connect the musical dots. Julius Thomas III, singing in a sweet tenor, makes a charming leading man as Gordy, while Jarran Muse's Marvin Gaye smolders with cocky charisma. And Allison Semmes is especially fine as Diana Ross, blossoming from sassy schoolgirl into sultry superstar (with pipes to match).  The entire ensemble is top notch, serving up comic cameos ranging from a sourpuss Ed Sullivan to a superfreaky Rick James in between raising the roof with such classics as "Dancing in the Street," "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."  The vibrato-heavy renditions aren't exactly period-perfect, but this is musical theater, after all, and "Motown" is all about showstopping vocals — in a show that never stops." -Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)

No comments:

Post a Comment