The Broadway smash hit Motown the Musical is back on the road and happily back in Los Angeles with all of its beauty and power and a story of incredible strength against an almost overwhelming sea of adversity. Back are many of those absolutely sensational R & B, Soul Pop songs from the massive Motown catalogue. Legendary hits such as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Baby Love,” “Dancing in the Street,” “Get Ready,” “Lonely Teardrops,” “My Girl,” “Please, Mr. Postman,” “War” and so many more.
Immortal super star artists Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Four Tops and so many others are recreated on stage bringing back great memories of a now bygone era.
Yes, of course, it is also a look at the life and times of Motown founder Berry Gordy who struggled in his early life and then reached for the stars. Like every man Gordy was not perfect but he clearly was vastly talented, driven and extremely successful in one of the toughest businesses imaginable, the music industry.
But the struggle was even more dramatic when you consider that the Motown artists and, of course, Berry Gordy, were black in a society still very much white dominated. Segregation was still very much in place in the early days of the rise of Motown. In one scene some the Motown artists go on tour and see firsthand the effects of racial segregation when their audience is split between the whites and the “coloreds” and enforced by the police.
It reminded me of my first visit to North Carolina around 1960. A small group of us from Chicago stopped at a bus station in Rocky Mount, North Carolina and we were simply flabbergasted by the presence of four distinct public bathrooms, one each for white woman, white men, colored women and colored men.
But this amazing show Motown the Musical gives even more context by briefly showing the effects on the American public at large and black America in particular when confronted with such tragedies as the assignation of President John F. Kennedy, the slaying of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and the ravages of the Vietnam War; each of these events having left their indelible mark on our society.
So as it happens Motown the Musical is indeed extremely entertaining with an abundance of fun and joy, but it is also filled with reflection upon some of the more difficult and disturbing aspects of American society not all that many years ago.
Another scene that is very telling was when Berry Gordy was pitching one of his records to a local radio DJ only to be told by the DJ that his audience wasn’t interested in “colored” music. His station played white music for white people. Yes once upon a time people really did think that way, but Gordy and his super star team beat the system and came out on top.
The performances by Chester Gregory as Berry Gordy and Allison Semmes as Diana Ross were true examples of perfection in stagecraft as was the contribution of every cast member in the show. The music was utterly awesome, the lighting and set design spectacular and in the end Motown the Musical is amongst the best of the best in musical theatre and you can see it now at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90026. But do hurry because the show is on a short run in Los Angeles from now through February 12th.
Show times are Tuesdays through Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 1 and 6:30 p.m. For reservations and ticketing call 1-800-982-2787 or go to www.ticketmaster.com
Ron Irwin was born in Chicago, Illinois a long time ago. He served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam, became a trial lawyer, TV and radio host, CEO of a public company and once held an Emmy. He never won an Emmy he just held one. Ron has written and published twelve books. His most important book to date is “Live, Die, Live Again” in which Ron tells of his early life and his unexpected and very temporary death in 2012. That experience dramatically refocused his life and within the pages of that book Ron reveals how he achieved a much healthier life, ridding himself of Diabetes, Cancer and Heart Failure. Now Ron enjoys writing about many things including health topics, travel [he has circled the globe several times], adventure, culinary experiences and the world of performing art. Ron’s motto is “Live better, live longer and live stronger because it feels great and annoys others.” Contact the author.