BWW Review: A MOTOWN CHRISTMAS at Westcoast Black Theatre
Created and directed by WBTT artistic director Nate Jacobs with choreography by Donald Frison, A Motown Christmas triumphantly returns to the Westcoast Black Theatre stage. Familiar cast members including Mr. Jacobs, are Michael Mendez, Ariel Blue, Ashley D. Brooks, Brian Boyd, JoAnna Ford, Leon Pitts II, Tarra Conner Jones and Derric Gobourne Jr. The entire ensemble was up to the mighty task of singing and dancing throughout this jammed packed show.
The program features a celebrated selection of music from Gladys Knight, Smokey Robinson, The Jacksons, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, The Temptations. The list goes on. The show does feel a bit long only because it overflowed with all that Motown has to offer. It must have been a tough task deciding which songs to include and which to exclude from the massive Motown repertoire. Nonetheless, no one complained about the length. It was just too much fun and so well produced. There are some cleverly written narratives woven between numbers that allow for a graceful transition from one song to another. Also woven into the production between Christmas songs are some of the greatest songs out of Motown that blended in well.
The costumes were festive and sparkling, befitting a Broadway stage. Music Director/Bass James E. Dodge, II and his band were on fire and sounded much bigger than the five-piece ensemble we heard playing. A screen in the background reflected festive pictures relating to different scenarios that were played out.
When Act I opened with the whole company singing, "Deck the Halls", we were ready to get our Christmas on. Let the celebration begin! Easy transitions lead us from Christmas carols to, "Stop! In the Name of Love", "My Girl", "Jimmy Mack", "Tears of a Clown", and then back to "Rudolph", "Jingle Bells" and "Joy to the World". Brilliant.
WBTT were constantly moving, dancing and frolicking with each other. They covered every inch of the stage and then some. They were playful with the audience and asked us to join in singing and clapping. There was a hip gospel vibe to many of the songs and carols they performed. Mr. Boyd got everyone stirred up with "Can I Get a Witness". A change up of words with "My Favorite Things" between JoAnna, Ashley and Ariel pitted JoAnna singing the traditional lyrics we all know, against the other girls whose favorite things were diamonds and girly things. We got see hear a little more of the vocal range that Ms. Ford possesses.
Act II had the guys singing "Little Drummer Boy" with two members of the ensemble dressed as tin soldiers and air playing their drums with drum sticks. It worked very well and lead me up to believing I was going to possibly see some acrobatics between the drummers craftily striking each others drum sticks to some exotic beat within the stilled theatre. Perhaps next year? A few standouts for the more traditional carols were Tarra Conner Jones singing "Oh Holy Night" from her heart. Carmilia "Carmi" Harris and Raleigh Mosely II delivered a beautiful rendition of "Mary Did You Know". Dancer Chakara Rosa was graceful and vibrant and added that extra special touch to this production.
A Motown Christmas is a feast for the eyes. And the soul. From gospel to patriotic, from Motown to African rhythms, there is something to entertain and inspire everyone.
A Motown Christmas plays through December 23, 2017. For more information visit www.westcoastblacktheatre.org.