Power of music shines through self-indulgent ‘Motown’

Sitting through “Motown: the Musical” is not unlike sitting with aging relative as they fumble throu
Jarran Muse as Marvin Gaye in "Motown: The Musical."
Jarran Muse as Marvin Gaye in "Motown: The Musical."

Sitting through “Motown: the Musical” is not unlike sitting with aging relative as they fumble through an old scrapbook.

At first, it seems an interesting excursion — connecting with the past, sharing some memories, learning a history. But as your mind fills up with names and faces of people from their past, the stories of unresolved resentments and battles with fantasy begin to surface and take over.

Perhaps “Motown: the Musical” is less a scrapbook than a mix tape — with super self-indulgent commentary. Ostensibly the story of the founding of Motown and the early life of its creator, Berry Gordy, the evening never successfully tells either tale. It’s more dry pageant than a joyous hullabaloo.


WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady

WHEN: Through Sunday

HOW MUCH: $90-$20

MORE INFO: 346-6204, www.proctors.org

As important as Gordy and Motown have been to the music industry, it’s sad that a suitably convincing (or even interesting) musical could not be penned to chronicle it. It is also sad that a story so steeped in nostalgia as this one — full of big hair, bell-bottoms and big hits — seems clinical and distant.

The show is structured so awkwardly that it lands as a strange amalgam of an overlong episode of “This is Your Life” peppered with exciting clips from “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Another sad issue is that each of the hits is truncated — save for the new songs Gordy penned for this production. Like a 5-year-old playing with the car radio in a 1960s Cadillac, the songs are constantly changing. When you start to sing along and get groovin’, clumsy little fingers punch it to the next station of Gordy’s supposedly troubled life.

For a show that features music that pulses and gets your heart pumping, the evening is oddly constricting, never allowing you an organic freedom to twist and shout. The show tells you when to clap, when to sing along and when to raise your arms over your head and sway, making the evening more a group game of “Simon Says” than a trip to The Hollywood Palace.

But the fault with the storytelling and dramatic structure of the piece cannot stall the power of the music.

Spinning round Gordy (played here by an earnest Josh Towers) is an exemplary cast brimming with talent, bringing to life a star-studded playlist of artists — Diana Ross (and the Supremes), Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye — they’re all here. And so are the hits — “Stop in the Name of Love,” The Happening,” “ABC,” “Cruisin’” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” among scores of others.

Jarran Muse as Marvin Gaye is mighty fine, capturing perfectly that soulful voice and gentle aura, making “What’s Going On” a high point of the evening. Leon Outlaw Jr. is wonderful as the young front man of the Jackson 5.

And Syndee Winters, with the voice, the wave and the happy smile, completely embodies Miss Ross. Winters’ duet “You’re All I Need to Get By” with Towers is a nothing short of solid gold.

Under the tight direction of Darryl Archibald, the orchestra is rich and ready, pumping out each hit the way we remember it, and maybe just a little bit better.

Choreography by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams is energetic, capturing the essence of the era with success. And David Korins and Natasha Katz’ setting and lighting design nicely complement the songs and action.

“Motown: The Musical” has so much to offer and so desperately wants the audience to love it, but it works just as hard to keep the audience at a distance. What’s going on?

Categories: Entertainment, News

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