Motown the Musical is a grand old school musical telling the first hand story of a man who became a legend. The timeless music he helped create became legendary. There are two stories folded into one in this Motown story -- a man and his music, and a man and his company.
There is the story of workaholic mega-producer Berry Gordy Jr., a genius. The story unfolds with Berry "Jr.," as his family called him, watching boxer Joe Louis fight Max Schmelling (for the second time). Louis became the World's Heavyweight Champion with a knock out punch. The Brown Bomber made a lasting impression on a little boy named Berry. This was a benchmark on the mind of a little boy who saw a champion and became one.
Gordy worked on Detroit's auto assembly line, and from there, developed his business model. It ultimately became the way he would structure his very own company of producers, artists, musicians, song writers and the like. He took kids from the neighborhood, off the street corners and turned them into stars; ultimately, making them all millionaires as they found fame and fortune. He bought a house and called it "Hitsville." During the 60s Motown, he had 70 records in the Billboard Top Ten.
He took young women from public housing projects of Detroit and made them Supremes. He took young men harmonizing ("doo-woping") on the street corners and made them The Temptations. He had one young man who was his partner in crime. Smokey Robinson, lead singer of The Miracles, was also the Vice President of the Motown Corporation. He saw the multi-talent of a young, blind boy who started his career as Little Stevie Wonder. He saw the genius of his brother-in-law, Marvin Gaye. And then there was Gladys Knight and the Pips, Mary Wells and the kids from Gary, Indiana -- The Jackson Five.
The musical presents an abbreviated version of 60 plus Motown hits as the story unfolds. This is a story about an entrepreneur who started his company in 1959, and the trials and tribulations he faced along the way. This iconic company was a black institution that ushered in a new generation of music that made a lasting impression on the world. Motown's music crossed over and integrated as he showcased the soul and creativity that was being culturally defined as a new "blackness" that was hip and on.
The music was the life and style of a changing evolving Black America to include love songs, message, music and protest. It was the music of an era capturing the mood of the 60s, 70s and 80s. In Motown the Musical, the talented Clifton Oliver brilliantly displays Berry Gordy's "go-get-em/I-will-survive" attitude, and Chicago's very own Allison Semmes "caterpillar to a butterfly " turn, proves she was born to play Diva Diana Ross. Also, Jarran Muse captures the musicality and independence of Marvin Gaye. The talented/fantastic ensemble cast helped tell the back-stories of (Berry Gordy) and the musical careers that were launched from the era. The high-voltage choreography was spectacular in the opening number, in a dance duel between The Temptations and The Four Tops.
Gordy and Ross's "May-December" romance is revealed and told through Gordy's eyes. The audience is led to believe that his workaholic and alcoholic behavior killed the romance. But he kept his promise. He made the little girl from the projects a world-class star, as he loved her dearly. It was something about that "big eyed girl."
The storyline also shows the pitfalls of an emerging black business. Gordy moved his company to Los Angeles. When his artists became bigger stars, the big guys, the corporations, raided the company with money offers and independent deals. Deals the artists did not and could not refuse, and certainly Gordy could not match. This killed the growth and development of his very own Motown. They didn't stick together. They separated and became history. The company changed when they moved from Detroit to Los Angles in 1972. He eventually sold the company.
Berry's impact is showcased in this Motown Story. Motown the Musical received criticism and critiques that the story was too much of Berry's personal life, but Motown was his life. He was the father to a new music, a generation, that changed the perception of black entertainment. It is his story told his way. It's a must see for all ages.
Motown the Musical pulsates with incredible energy and takes you on a glorious, toe-tapping, finger-snapping musical journey! It is a beautiful beat that brings back memories and raises the question of "Where are the new Berry Gordy's?" If some of today's musical superstars would have been groomed to be articulate, poised and mentored, perhaps many of them would not see jail cells or rehabilitation centers. Gordy was a father to many of the artist on Motown's roster, and he ushered in a brand new sound.
Opening night at the Oriental Theatre was red carpet hot, and the buzz in the air was electrifying. Berry and Smokey were seated among Chicago notables. Berry chose Chicago for the first national touring company run because of his roots and love for our city. And as he thanked the audience and those who made it possible; he danced to his very own music like a man half his age. Gordy impacted the world. He made a difference as he made history.
Bravo, Mr. Gordy, and thank you so much for your magic!