“Motown The Musical” is an ambitious and mostly effective production; however, it ultimately falls victim to the rarest of problems, simultaneously delivering too much and not enough.
On paper, this show is a slam dunk — just feature the songs of arguably the most influential music factory of the 20th century by tracing the life and times of the record company’s determined and powerful founder Berry Gordy (played on stage by Chester Gregory).
Unfortunately, “Motown The Musical,” playing now through March 26, at the Fox Theatre, just can’t bear the weight of all that success.
Where do you even start when you’re talking about the music of Diana Ross (Allison Semmes), Smokey Robinson (David Kaverman), Marvin Gaye (Jarran Muse), and Stevie Wonder (Elijah Ahmad Lewis)? And that’s without even mentioning The Four Tops, The Supremes, The Temptations, The Jackson Five, or The Commodores. And we’re still only scratching the surface of Motown. There is enough material here for 10 musicals.
That’s where the “too much” comes into play. By trying to include everything (there are more than 50 songs featured in the show), the vast majority are merely snippets, and no song is allowed to truly shine on its own.
And, because we have too much music, there’s not enough story, as 25 years of Motown and entire constellations of stars get shrunk down to fit everything into a three-hour show.
The show tries its best to keep the spotlight on Gordy and his influence not only on the music industry, but the Civil Rights Era (Gregory is the unquestioned star of the show, but it is a little odd when Berry Gordy has a better voice than half of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame).
The biggest credit to this show has to be with so, so much going on, it actually almost manages to pull it off.
“Motown The Musical” does what the best of the jukebox musicals do by giving a fun, nostalgic treatment to beloved songs while providing context to the story and reminding the audience why they loved them in the first place.
The production also deserves credit for not flinching from the darker (and, unfortunately, still topical) aspects of the Civil Rights movement and for being one of the few shows to feature a predominately African-American cast.
If “Motown The Musical” had found a way to be focused like a laser beam, it could have aimed for greatness. By taking the shotgun approach, it can’t be anything more than merely good, which ultimately makes the show feel like a missed opportunity.
“Motown The Musical” is playing now through March 26, at the Fox Theatre. For tickets, call 314-534-1111 or go to metrotix.com.