MoTown: The Musical (Broadway Review)
We saw MoTown: The Musical last Friday, and I think it’s fair to say that everyone in attendance had a good time. However, before you run out and pay astronomical Broadway fees, I’ll provide a bit more insight into what you’re actually getting from this show.
Wikipedia describes the book as follows: “The story revolves around the early days of Motown and Berry Gordy’s romance with Diana Ross.” While this is true, to use the word “story” might be a bit grand as “story” tends to imply… I dunno, that things are explained. For example, I have no idea why Gordy and Ross got together in the first place – it just sort of happens at some point. Then there’s the ham-fisted dialogue… I’ll just say it’s not good and leave it at that.
Bottom line on the book: MoTown: The Musical isn’t so much a strict Broadway musical as it is a member of what is most likely Broadway’s newest genre; that is, the jukebox musical, which really means that the story doesn’t matter – you’re going to hear people sing songs you know.
Like the title of the show, it’s just Motown hits sung by amazing performers – the show opens with a dueling medley that didn’t work for me, but I’m not a fan of medleys, so this probably won’t bother folks as much as it did me… Unfortunately, they cut the best parts out of both songs, so… bleh. But otherwise, the music is, in a word, Motown, so it’s great.
There are two ill advised original songs in the show – one in each act. In my view, adding original songs that have to stand up to the likes of Motown’s greatest hits is an insane idea – just as crazy as adding an original song to Les Misérables. To be fair, I enjoyed the second act’s Berry Gordy solo, but it’s still no Motown hit.
These are all minor complaints – the music is awesome.
Holy hell, the performances in this show are amazing. The singing and dancing is all first rate and no one is resting. I imagine backstage is just an endless parade of Gatorade and cocaine because I have no idea how else they kept up that pace. It’s nuts and has to be seen to be believed – these folks are awesome.
There’s some audience participation and performers entering the house – in my view, this is always a bad idea and can bring your show to a grinding halt (because the audience paid a premium price to see world class performers do their thing, not other members of the audience – also, the show belongs on the stage so the entire audience can see it), but the house we saw this with loved both of these moments, so what do I know? The choreography is also excellent – it never stops moving. Even people in the background who are not doing anything move every once and a while just to keep things from getting static. Overall, the show is quiet impressive despite the book and lackluster direction because the other department heads (lighting design, video projection design, choreography, pit band, music director – anyone having anything to do with music) and performers had things well in hand with the possible exception of set design – not bad, but I felt that there was a lot of unnecessary framing (this could have been the lighting designer’s idea as there were small lights built into the framing pieces) and several pieces that served little purpose – the “Diana” sign comes to mind as something that flew in, floated for maybe a minute and flew right out – just long enough to blind the audience.
If you want to see amazing performers sing Motown songs live, this is the show for you – after all, are any of these folks touring anymore? Unfortunately, several of these folks aren’t even alive at this point, so if nostalgia for Motown is calling, I’d check this out, but it’s also just a good time for anyone who likes Motown and/or good performances. Motown: The Musical is playing at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre right in the heart of the theater district. (We saw Orlando Bloom leaving his Romeo and Juliet show that is playing across the street as we were leaving the theater. I was all, “Legolas! Legolas! Sign my quiver!”)