Theater Review: 'Motown: The Musical' -- 2 stars

From left, Sydney Morton, Valisia LeKae and Ariana

From left, Sydney Morton, Valisia LeKae and Ariana DeBose as The Supremes. (Credit: From left, Sydney Morton, Valisia LeKae and Ariana DeBose as The Supremes.)

Motown: The Musical
2 stars

Instead of having to endure perhaps a dozen different jukebox musicals based on various Motown icons in future years, “Motown: The Musical” allows us to get it all over with in one shot.

It’s an unwieldy and unfocused attempt to package dozens of hit songs from all the trailblazing Motown performers of the 1960s and 1970s into a single sugarcoated, sanitized narrative revolving about workaholic megaproducer Berry Gordy.

Still, this elaborate, very busy production ought to please anyone looking to take a nostalgia trip and overlook its problems.

About 60 songs — described as “the legendary Motown Catalog” — are featured including “My Guy,” “My Girl,” “I’ll Be There,” “Dancing in the Street,” “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and numerous other standards.

Although many famous performers and groups are ably impersonated both physically and vocally — including Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations and Smokey Robinson — they all receive the same superficial treatment.

Gordy was closely involved with the musical and wrote its poor book.

Despite Brandon Victor Dixon’s sincerity, Gordy as a character comes across as too passive in nature. He is little more than a connective tissue to move from one group to the next.

“Jersey Boys,” which is undeniably the best of the jukebox genre, unhesitatingly addressed the Four Seasons’ gritty past, while “Motown” hides all traces of scandal under the rug. Even the racial tensions of the period are addressed too fleetingly to make an impact.

Ironically, while “Motown” bemoans how the music industry was ultimately swallowed up by corporate giants that wooed away Gordy’s major clients with wild offers, the musical is essentially a company history section of a corporate website.


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