Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Motown the Musical
The theatre was sold out and the air of expectancy was fierce. And then it began.
Sixty truncated, aborted classics crammed into an ear-splitting (almost) three hours.
As a concert, this would have worked, but in the show they have added endless badly written scenes to show the growth of the young Berry Gordy Jr. (an uncharismatic Chester Gregory) from youngster to the icon of Motown records.
Along the way we meet a plethora of impersonators of some of the Detroit greats. Among the more successful are Allison Semmes as Diana Ross. she nails Ross's nasal, kittenish delivery; and Jarran Muse, who sounds like and looks exactly like the late, great Marvin Gaye. Unfortunately, we also get Jesse Nager as Smokey Robinson, speaking in the worst falsetto to try to approximate Robinson's distinctive voice, but he sings well. As Mary Wells, Martina Sykes makes her entrance on a shrieking high note that only dogs can hear. Mary Wells never sang like that.
And therein lies the problem. With very few exceptions, the singers sound nothing like the originals. There is much "toying" with the musical interpretations and to an audience that probably knows every word of the songs, that is frustrating, to say the least. The most enjoyable is Berry and Diana doing "You're All I Need to Get By." For once it sounded like an impassioned love song rather than the Muzak that had preceded it. While they are no Marvin and Tammi, they hit it out of the park.
In full disclosure, I usually loathe jukebox musicals". I want a strong book when I see a musical. One that I found particularly successful on this point was Smokey Joe's Cafe, a fun evening with fully sung Stoller/Leiber classics. Motown's book is so badly written it's laughable. In act one the audience was clearly there to have a good time. By the end of the evening, the dynamics had changed.
As I said at the top, it's not the worst thing I have ever seen. How many of you remember Via Galactica? Been there! Never Live Over a Pretzel Factory? Saw it! Warp? Ditto! Marlowe? Da woist! Got Tu Go Disco? Wouldn't have missed it! And yes, kiddies, Moose Murders. I am one of the lucky few who caught that one, as well.
Motown will please many who are not as demanding of substance, and to them I say, "Enjoy!"
Motown the Musical runs through February 14, 2016, at the Kravis Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach, FL. 33401 www.kravis.org 561-832-7469. For more information on the tour, visit www.motownthemusical.com.