Friday, February 3, 2017

"Motown The Musical," A Sweet, Nostalgic Journey

By Darlene Donloe

Motown the Musical isn’t just a show, it’s an experience!

The experience, directed by Charles Randolph-Wright, is about that incredible music that took hold in the 60s and left a lasting legacy. It’s about that sound. It’s also the story of Berry Gordy and how he took an $800 loan from his family and turned it into the legendary empire called Motown.  It’s the story of the artists who came to be associated with a sound that was heard and revered worldwide.

Motown the Musical is the true American dream story of Gordy’s journey from featherweight boxer to the heavyweight music mogul who launched the careers of superstars like Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye.

But it’s so much more than that. It’s about emotion, commitment, tenacity and pride. It’s about the pride of the people of Detroit, who claimed Motown as their own. For anyone who grew up in Detroit during Motown’s height of popularity – it’s a stroll down a musical memory lane.

The music. There is nothing like that music.

The show starts off with a big bang pitting The Four Tops and The Temptations against each other in an epic battle that has them one upping each other with hit after hit. Because of the numerous hits recorded by both groups, that’s a battle that could go on forever. The show starts there and doesn’t let up. Lights, camera, action, music!!! 

From the beginning the show grabs the audience by the ears and doesn’t let go. More than 40 classic Motown hits are featured in what can only be described as a musical extravaganza. The play is similar to an event that happened back in the day when Motown had a road tour called the Motortown Revue, later to be called Motown Revue. It featured the roster of talent that made Motown shine.

Some of songs in the show include: ABC, Ball of Confusion, Cruisin, War, Two Lovers, What’s Going On, Reach Out and Touch, It’s The Same Old Song, Shop Around, I Hear A Symphony, Where Did Our Love Go, I Can’t Help Myself, My Guy, I Heard It Through the Grapevine, Stop The Love You Save, My Girl and more.

Gordy boasted the baddest group of performers on the planet - backed by the baddest studio musicians called The Funk Brothers. The Motown roster was delicious.  The envious list included The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Jackson Five, Gladys Knight and The Pips, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Tammi Terrell, Edwin Starr, Jr. Walker and the All Stars, The Supremes, The Marvelettes, Mary Wells, The Commodores, Martha Reeves and The Vandellas, Brenda Holloway, The Isley Brothers, Rick James, The Spinners and more. It just doesn’t get any better than that!!

The two-hour musical is vibrant, magical and full of high-energy.

The opening night performance was not only packed it was memorable. Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson and several Motown veterans were in the audience. At one point in the show the character of Diana Ross introduces Berry Gordy’s character, who comes from the back of the theater - through the audience and then to the stage. However, the audience misunderstood. They stood up, turned and clapped for the real Berry Gordy, ignoring Chester Gregory who was making his way onto the stage. It was an awkward, yet funny and unforgettable moment. Everyone, including the actors had a bit of a chuckle.

Chester Gregory and Allison Semmes star as Berry Gordy and Diana Ross respectively.  They not only deliver phenomenal performances, they lead an impressive cast that fuels a high-octane show. The voices soar and the choreography is enthusiastic. CJ Wright. nearly steals the show with his portrayal of a young Michael Jackson. David Kaverman (Smokey Robinson) and Jarran Muse (Marvin Gaye) also standout.

Motown the Musical isn’t just about the good times. It pulls back the curtain on Berry Gordy’s warts including his affair with Diana Ross and being sued by Holland Dozier Holland over money.

All of the drama is, of course, set to music.

Audience members could be seen bopping throughout the show as the Motown sound wafted through the behemoth theater.

The show, currently enjoying a limited two-week run at the Hollywood Pantages Theater through February 12, had a successful Broadway run, becoming a critical and audience favorite and a commercial hit.  

Berry Gordy (left), David Kaverman and CJ Wright 
on opening night

The show is a treat! Run, don’t walk to experience Motown The Musical.

Motown The Musical is produced by Kevin McCollum, Doug Morris and Berry Gordy in association with Work Light Productions.

Music and lyrics from the Motown catalog, Book by Berry Gordy Jr., based on the book To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown.

Motown The Musical stars Chester Gregory (Berry Gordy), Allison Semmes (Diana Ross), David Kaverman (Smokey Robinson), Jarran Muse (Marvin Gaye), Raymond Davis Jr. and CJ Wright (Young Berry Gordy/Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson).

The stellar cast also includes Michelle Alves, Malcolm Armwood, Judith Franklin, Jeremy Gaston, Garfield Hammonds, Latrisa Harper, Jared Howelton, Louis James Jackson, Elijah Ahmad Lewis, Ramone Owens, Devin L. Price, Tavia Rivee, Kimberly Ann Steele, Dough Storm, Daniel Robert Sullivan, Gabriella Whiting and Ricardo A Zayas.

Motown the Musical, Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles; 8 p.m. Tues.-Fri.; 2 and 8 p.m. Sat and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sun. through Feb. 12; tickets start at $25. For information: or

Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes (including intermission).

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no!), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (Oh, yeah) and E (excellent), Motown The Musical gets an E (excellent).

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