Review: ‘Motown the Musical’ offers non-stop string of hits in dazzling show

Broadway has come to Washington D.C, and it comes in the form of one of the most energetic and breathtaking musicals. “Motown: The Musical” is the story of how Berry Gordy created Motown Records, as well his romance with Diana Ross. After its successful Broadway run, the show has made a tour stop at the National Theatre.

After hard-driving opening songs in what seemed like a battle of the bands with the Temptations and the Four Tops, the scene gives way to Gordy in his living room. The backdrop for this musical foray is the eve of “Motown 25” a show designed to bring together Motown stars and Gordy appears reluctant to attend.

That scene sets the stage for a look back at how it all began when entrepreneur Berry (Josh Tower) secures a loan from his family to launch his fledging record company. The audience then travels with Gordy on his musical journey as he launches the careers of Diana Ross, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and so many more household names.

Make no mistake although the story about Gordy and his romance with Ross (Allison Semmes) is interesting, it is the songs that literally steal the show. More than 60 songs from the extensive Motown catalog are featured.

Some highlights include Leon Outlaw, Jr emitting effortless charm as the young Michael Jackson singing “Who’s Loving You.” Jesse Nager showcases Smokey Robinson’s hits and his voice uncannily captures an essence quite akin to Robinson’s.

Allison Semmes does a real star turn in the role of Ross, transforming from the early stages as a wide-eyed enthusiastic young singer to an in-control superstar and diva who eventually charts her own destiny as she leaves Motown for RCA. Semmes performance and inflections are on point. Like Ross, she weaves into the audience and encourages their participation. Some may have recognized former Apprentice competitor Omarosa as one of the audience members who joins Semmes on “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand).”Motown the Musical Jarran Muse as Marvin Gaye, not only gives the audience some of Gaye’s hits, he also brings to life the unrest of the 1960s with “What’s Going On.” The audience reaction to the lyrics (“Picket lines and picket signs; don’t punish me with brutality”) is palpable as it was obvious that for some it invoked thoughts of the recently released video of the killing of a Chicago teen, couple with the recent mass shootings in San Bernadino (“only love can conquer hate”). At this point in history, the lyrics seemed to eerily ring true.

Once the curtain call came, the audience got a real treat. Berry Gordy, joined the cast on stage and danced enthusiastically. At age 86, the groundbreaking music mogul had a lot of pep in his step and proved that he is a man who is not content resting on his laurels, but intent on continuing to build on his storied career and legacy.

“Motown the Musical” is a must-see. It is a joyous, pulsating, invigorating and captivating display of one of the best musical eras. It delivers a cacophony of Motown hits with skillful choreography that will create nostalgia in the hearts of Baby Boomers and make new fans of a new generation. “Motown the Musical” is one of those musicals that will theatre-goers considering “Dancing in the Streets” by night’s end.

Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright, “Motown the Musical” runs through Jan. 3 at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Tickets $48-$203, subject to change. Call 800-514-3849 or visit http://www.thenationaldc.com.

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