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Review Roundup: MOTOWN Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!


MOTOWN: THE MUSICAL opens tonight, April 14, 2013, at Broadway's The Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (205 West 46 Street). Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright, MOTOWN: THE MUSICAL features a book by Berry Gordy and music and lyrics from the legendary Motown catalogue.

MOTOWN: THE MUSICAL's creative team features choreography by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams, scenic design by David Korins, costume design by Tony Award nominee ESosa, lighting design by Tony Award winner Natasha Katz, sound design by Tony Award nominee Peter Hylenski, and projection design by Daniel Brodie.

MOTOWN: THE MUSICAL features arrangements and orchestrations by Ethan Popp, who will also serve as musical supervisor for the 18 piece orchestra and reproduce the classic "Sound of Young America" for the Broadway stage, with co-orchestrations and additional arrangements by Bryan Crook, dance arrangements by Zane Mark and music direction by Joseph Joubert.

MOTOWN: THE MUSICAL is the real story of the one-of-a-kind sound that hit the airwaves in 1959 and changed our culture forever. Let's see what the critics had to say...

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: For all the richness of its gold-and-platinum-plated soundtrack, "Motown" would be a much more satisfying nostalgia trip if Mr. Gordy and his collaborators were more effective curators of both story and song, rather than trying to encompass the whole of the label's fabled history in two and a half hours. Irresistible as much of the music is, I often had the frustrating impression that I was being forced to listen to an LP being played at the dizzying, distorting speed of a 45.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: The 2 1/2-hour show, about Motown Records under founder Berry Gordy, opened Sunday at The Lunt-Fontanne Theatre completely unbalanced: The songs are staggering, the book utterly flimsy. Both are due to one man: Gordy, who clearly knows what makes an indelible hit song, but also has an inability to write objectively about that skill. As the book writer, Gordy comes across almost divine, a true visionary who literally changed the world and race relations but was eventually abandoned by the artists he made stars when they sought to cash in. There are parts of the show that even a North Korean dictator would find excessively flattering.

Elysa Gardner, USA Today: It's when the music stops that things get awkward. Gordy's book is thwarted not so much by his egotism - which is at least honest, and mitigated somewhat by self-effacing jokes - as his banality. Played by the excellent Brandon Victor Dixon, Gordy reflects on his struggles and triumphs, and dispenses advice, with a ham-handed earnestness that can suggest a speech to business students or self-help book more than a human being expressing himself.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: You can't hurry love, but apparently you can hurtle through 25 years of pop history without depth or complexity if Motown: The Musical is any indication. With its narrowly self-serving perspective and simplistic connect-the-dots plotting, Berry Gordy's book makes Jersey Boys look like Eugene O'Neill. And Charles Randolph-Wright's direction struggles to get a fluid handle on the music empire founder's superficial chronicle of his legendary Detroit hit factory. But there's no denying the power and energy of the show's arsenal of killer tunes.

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: There's no shortage of great tunes from which to choose. And if a batch of catchy classics with tasty harmonies and cool grooves like "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," "Stop in the Name of Love," "My Girl" and "ABC" were enough to make a jukebox musical click, the show would be an automatic hit. But it takes more. While the music catalog runs deep, the story is shallow. The book, penned by Gordy, who also produced the show, suffers from being sketchy, earnest and sometimes corny.

Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg News: Over the course of this juicy soul jukebox show, we'll watch irresistible performances of the Detroit-born classics that brought "race music" into the mainstream, from Jackie Wilson's "Reet Petite" to the Supremes's "Stop In The Name Of Love" and the Jackson Five's "The Love You Save." ... The story behind the hits, as written by Berry Gordy and narrated in the show by his avatar, Brandon Victor Dixon, is a more depressing matter. The wince- and titter-inducing words between the songs and the ravishingly charged dance numbers are hagiography.

Erik Haagensen, Backstage: ...the show stuffs 67 songs into its two-hour-and-45-minute running time. Such abundance suggests that impresario Berry Gordy-who created the fabulously successful music factory and has written and produced this entertainment about its history-has strong convictions about what his audience wants. If you are looking to bathe in nostalgia evoked by beloved tunes while watching talented and committed professionals do their industrious best to locate the magic of legendary performers, this is the show for you. If you prefer a well-written story with multidimensional characters that digs beneath the surface and uses song with dramatic acumen, then steer clear.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: The Broadway faithful (at least, the part that covers the Baby Boomer demographic ranging from "mature" to "doddering") will have its mantra ready when cooler heads point out that "Motown: the Musical" is a hot mess. Should anyone note that Berry Gordy's kissy-face tribute to himself has no shape, depth, thematic point or dramatic continuity, the proper aud response should be: "We don't care!" And why should any nostalgic music-hound care, when this jubilant jukebox musical comes loaded with great singers, tons of energy, and dozens of classic Motown roof-raisers?

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly: At its best, the new Broadway show - produced and scripted by Gordy himself - plays like a theme night on an all-star season of American Idol, packing in nearly 60 songs from a wide swath of the label's most recognizable artists. But between the energetic musical performances, backed by a tight 18-piece orchestra and boasting spirited choreography by Patirica Wilcox and Warren Adams, the cast is left to grapple with Berry's frankly amateurish book.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: Here's what a $150 orchestra seat gets you at "Motown: The Musical": bargain-basement sets, basic choreography performed merely adequately, and laughable dialogue. But then there are the songs: thrilling, unimpeachable, familiar yet still completely fresh. They fill the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in a huge, giddy rush - and number a whopping 59, though most are shortened.

Linda Winer, Newsday: And his book, though clunky and schematic and much too long, is not entirely a cornball tribute to his noble self. Despite the fine Brandon Victor Dixon as Gordy, we don't feel much of anything for the impresario and sometimes songwriter who, inspired as a kid by black boxing champ Joe Louis, borrows $800 from his loving family in Detroit and builds a music empire.

Jesse Green, Vulture: To a roomful of people who have rarely if ever been part of the creation of a major musical, perhaps it seemed sufficient to tie a few dozen presold numbers together with just enough thread to tell a story. (Mamma Mia! has so far grossed more than $534 million on Broadway doing just that.) But the problem with jukeboxes has never been the songs. The problem is that when songs are forced to tell a tale they weren't designed for, they lose their deeper effectiveness, and usually end up like leeches, no longer supporting but sucking. In that respect, Motown is the worst jukebox (with the best tunes) I've ever encountered.

Matt Windman, AM New York: Instead of having to endure perhaps a dozen different jukebox musicals based on various Motown icons in future years, "Motown: The Musical" allows us to get it all over with in one shot. It's an unwieldy and unfocused attempt to package dozens of hit songs from all the trailblazing Motown performers of the 1960s and 1970s into a single sugarcoated, sanitized narrative revolving about workaholic megaproducer Berry Gordy. Still, this elaborate, very busy production ought to please anyone looking to take a nostalgia trip and overlook its problems. 2 stars

Adam Feldman, Time Out: Motown-The Musical left my eyes tired. For half of the show, they were glued to the stage; for the other half, they rolled up in disbelief to the farthest reaches of their sockets. Rarely has a Broadway musical offered such extremes of talent and inanity. The mountains are thrillingly high: glorious snatches of more than 50 classic pop songs from the catalogs of such Motown artists as Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, the Four Tops, the Temptations and the Jackson 5. But the valleys are abysmally low. The book sections of the show, in which Motown founder and Motown coproducer Berry Gordy Jr. traces 45 years of his own journey, is a compost heap of dubious history, wooden acting and risible dialogue...

Robert Kahn, NBC New York: "Motown," which clocks in at nearly three hours with intermission, is a greatest hits collection of music and a treasure trove of history...Like so many collections, it would benefit from some considerable paring down. I'd have preferred fewer of those awesome songs, with more of them performed in full. The actors (among them, the fine Valisia LeKae as Diana Ross and Bryan Terrell Clark as Marvin Gaye) do a swell job of not imitating the artists they're charged with portraying, instead infusing roles with their own individual charms. More nettlesome is the story, not that most people will care, since audiences will flock to "Motown" on the goodwill of its name alone.

Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: Berry Gordy, the man who discovered Diana Ross and The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Mary Wells (and on and on), was a peerless record producer when it came to handpicking talent and building careers. But Berry Gordy, the genuinely confounding new Broadway show "Motown the Musical" reveals, is just about the worst person in the world to write the story of Berry Gordy: the founder of Motown records...

Michael Sommers, New Jersey Newsroom: Don't expect a "Jersey Boys" level of dramatic sophistication. Still, at the very least - and it generally is - Gordy's sketchy script presents a straightforward framework that does not get in the way (usually) of more than 60 much-loved songs that are performed like blazes by a dynamic 30-member company of singers and dancers...Certainly the performers are tip-top.

Michael Musto, Village Voice: An air-tight revue with classic songs presented as theatrical set pieces, with a minimum of superficial chatter in between them. That's not what Motown The Musical is. Instead, the story of how Berry Gordy Jr. created a dazzling black sound that managed to be upbeat, despairing, and socially relevant--with a script written by Gordy himself--aims for a much broader approach...The Charles Randolph-Wright-directed production is attractive, and his cast members prove to be worthy interpreters...By the end, you'll have been entertained by many of the production numbers, though you might just wonder where the cruiseship buffet is.

Robert Feldberg, With neither character seeming to do more than go through the motions of romance, the relationship is as tepid as the rest of the Gordy saga. The only thing hot in "Motown" is the music.

Susan Whitall, Detroit News: It's hard to pack so many songs and so much story, but there is a rough and ready soulfulness, a Motor City heart in "Motown: The Musical" that carries the day.

Joe Lapointe, Deadline Detroit: Although "Motown" has a few transcendent moments, the show does not, overall, equal the potential sum of its parts. In a recent interview with CBS about his career, Gordy said: "I took some risks and they all paid off, big-time. I mean, really big time." Unfortunately, this show might not be one of those big-time payoffs, unless defined narrowly as a reported $16 million in advance sales. "Motown" lacks the tight, narrative trajectory of "Jersey Boys," the current king of Broadway's jukebox musicals, with a run that began in 2005.

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