BWW Review: OKC Broadway Dazzles With the National Tour of MOTOWN THE MUSICAL
OKC Broadway presents the national tour of MOTOWN THE MUSICAL March 7th-12th, 2017 at the Civic Center Musical Hall. Staged by Schele Williams (associate director from the Broadway production, originally directed by Charles Randolph-Wright) MOTOWN delivers a buzzing, delightful evening of your favorite songs - and they've never been done better. The audience was up on their feet dancing by the end of the show, and throughout the evening could often be found waving their hands in the air and singing along (you can decide for yourself whether this is a good or bad thing.) If you're looking for a trip down memory lane, head down to the Civic Center and experience an effervescent evening of MOTOWN music.
Right off the bat, the production is gorgeously designed. Everywhere you look, there is something to capture your attention. The lighting, designed by six-time Tony Award winner Natasha Katz, is dazzling, providing a rock-concert atmosphere. Set design by David Korins is anchored by at least four (I honestly lost count) large video screens that transport us around the world: from the back alleys of Detroit to the riverside boulevards of Paris. I especially appreciated projection designer Daniel Brodie's attention to detail: the movement of the screens is timed perfectly, often giving the illusion that the screens are revealing depth of a world behind them. Another bright spot in the production design is the costumes, created by Project Runway finalist Emilio Sosa. The production takes us on a journey over five decades; we all know how iconic the fashion from the 30s to the 80s can be, and Sosa uses his opportunity to show off. His many gowns sparkle and shine - dripping with fringe and beads - while he is appropriately understated where necessary.
But you don't attend a musical simply to be impressed by the design elements; you go to hear the songs. And this cast, many of them direct from the Broadway engagement, have knockout voices. Chester Gregory, leading the cast as Motown founder Berry Gordy, possesses a remarkably supple tenor. Allison Semmes crystal clear soprano belt shines as Diana Ross. And the stunning ensemble of supporting characters transform flawlessly into stars like Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Ed Sullivan, Martin Luther King, Jr., and famous singing groups The Temptations, The Supremes, and The Jackson 5 (enhanced by a delightful turn from a young Michael Jackson, with Raymond Davis Jr. and CJ Wright alternating in the role.) This fine ensemble never resort to impersonations, but evoke the essence of these celebrities while giving them life and a flair of their own.
Overall, I would say MOTOWN is full of style, though a little light on substance. Berry Gordy authored the script, based on his own life. Perhaps he was a little too close to the subject matter, but there really isn't much conflict in this story. It seems most of the script is trying to push out as much exposition in as little time as possible, and then move on to the next song. The cast acts the material serviceably, but they weren't given poetry to begin with.
But let's be honest... no one comes to see MOTOWN because they want an E! True Hollywood Story ...we come for the music. And that's what we get: over 50 songs from the Motown canon, ranging from mega-time hits like My Girl, Dancing In The Street, and Where Did Our Love Go to less-remembered gems like You're All I Need To Get By. Choreographed with vigor by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams, these songs are hits for a reason: Berry Gordy created the sound of a generation, and MOTOWN delivers that sound in a flashy, shimmering package.
OKC Broadway, a partnership between the Civic Center Foundation and The Nederlander Organization, has hit it out of the park with their inaugural season. With more Broadway hits in the coming months, including The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, The Book of Mormon, and a small, little-known show (maybe you've heard of it?) ...Hamilton, OKC Broadway has set the bar high. MOTOWN THE MUSICAL delivers on their promise to "bring Oklahoma City the best in theatrical entertainment."
MOTOWN THE MUSICAL plays March 7th-12th, 2017 at the Civic Center Music Hall. For tickets, call 405-297-2264 or CLICK HERE to buy online.
Photo by Joan Marcus.