BWW Reviews: MOTOWN: THE MUSICAL National Tour at Durham Performing Arts Center

By: Feb. 19, 2015

Based on Berry Gordy's 1994 autobiography To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown, this musical tells the true story behind Mr. Gordy's founding and running of the Motown record label, and his personal and professional relationships with Motown artists such as Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, and Michael Jackson. The music and lyrics for the musical are taken from selections from the Motown catalog.

The musical with a book penned by none other than Berry Gordy himself, first premiered on April 14th, 2013. Despite receiving some mixed-to-negative reviews from the critics, the show still went on to become a smash hit after recently ending it's two-year long run on Broadway.

The show features a total of 66 Motown songs (some are truncated, others are not) from a timespan of over 25 years. While the book does offer a few good points and some laughs from time-to-time, it's also very convoluted.

Though with all that being said, the material is elevated by some very slick staging from director Charles Randolph Wright, and an ensemble of some very talented performers. Clifton Oliver leads the show as Motown founder Berry Gordy; Allison Semmes really shines as Diana Ross; Jesse Nager stands-out as Smokey Robinson; Leon Outlaw, Jr., a very talented young man, in the roles of Young Berry Gordy, Young Stevie Wonder, and Michael Jackson.

In addition to the staging, the production values are also top-notch. Some energetic choreography from Warren Adams & Patricia Wilcox; some terrific sound work from Tony nominee Peter Hylenski; some amazing lighting designs from Natasha Katz; some very informative projections from Daniel Brodie; some three-dimensional scenic designs by David Korins; a wide variety of costumes designed by Esosa.

While it may not have the level of excitement that other bio-musicals with the likes of Jersey Boys and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical have to offer, Motown: The Musical still offers enough moments of enjoyment to make a trip to the theatre worthwhile.


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