Though it started off to a bit of a rocky start with some sound distortion – once Motown – The Musical got going there was definitely some dancin’ in the streets of Philadelphia. The National Tour of this biographical musical, based on the book, “To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, The Memories of Motown” by Berry Gordy, boasts a score from the catalog of Motown Records – the recording company that changed the face of pop music. At the Academy of Music you will see the likes of ground breaking artists such as Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Mary Wells, Martha & the Vandellas, the Jackson 5, Diana Ross & the Supremes and Stevie Wonder (to name a few) recreated by a cast of uber talented performers.
With a modest loan from his family, Berry Gordy Jr, founded Motown Records in Detroit in 1959. His headquarters bore the sign “Hitsville, U.S.A.” a harbinger of the success to come. Motown had its first hit in 1960 and the rest is history. Gordy discovered and developed a stable of recording artists and along the way created a sound – a melange of gospel, blues and pop -- the sound we today call “Motown”. But Motown was influential beyond the musical world. At the time of the record company’s inception the country was still segregated and music by Black artists was only played on Black radio stations. Motown’s artists changed all that as they soon became staples on mainstream White radio stations which encouraged people of all races to fraternize and dance together at concerts.
Julius Thomas III carries most of the show as the young, driven, multi-talented Berry Gordy. Mr. Thomas, besides being a gifted singer, is a grounded, believable, sensitive actor – whose affable interpretation of Mr. Gordy is a winning combination. Smooth voiced Jesse Nager is scrumptious as the lovable Smokey Robinson. Jarran Muse is outstanding as the deeply troubled, politically conscious Marvin Gaye. (Whose song “What’s Goin’ On?” is as topical today as it was when it was first released in 1971.) Petite Trisha Jeffrey is completely disarming as Diana Ross. And Leon Outlaw, Jr. as the young Michael Jackson (in the Jackson 5) is a show stopper. Kudos to Patrice Covington as Martha Reeves, Rashad Naylor as Jackie Wilson and Elijah Ahmad Lewis as Stevie Wonder for their powerful vocals. The rest of the cast (which is at least 20 strong) are all equally and enormously talented. They sing, they dance and do quick costume changes as they portray a pantheon of characters.
If you are a fan of Motown music (and who isn’t?) you will get on down to the Academy of Music -- where you will hear: “Get Ready”, “My Girl”, “My Guy”, “Baby Love”, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine”, “ABC”, “Please, Mr. Postman”, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours”, “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch”, “Do You Love Me?” “Brick House”, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and many, many more great songs.
For tickets call 215-731-3333 or go online at www.kimmelcenter.org/broadway.
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