REVIEW: CARLA TAYLOR (RIPple PUDDLE)
It’s a stormy Tuesday night in Austin, and it seems like a good idea to go see a musical. I think it’s best to experience musicals with people who a.) share an appreciation for unforgiving detail, both good and bad, and b.) know, without a twitch, when to pull the parachute chord. That person, on this evening, is my friend Marielle, my introspective, fresh-scrubbed partner in quippery.
Armed for discourse, we rush through the bar line discussing Motown’s legacy and its connection to the brilliant marketing machine that is Beyoncé and Jay-Z. But booze is the utmost priority and conversation is only buffer in its consumption. Plus I have the eerie suspicion that I might not actually like musicals at all.
We are seated in the middle of the theater. Soon the announcer gently introduces our conductor.
Then with a loud, some-might-consider jarring trumpet blare (I am actually specifically referring to Marielle and I who are jolted from our seats), we are violently thrust from the comforting bosom of our Ruby Red and Soda, onto a vibrant stage. The elderly woman next to me jams both index fingers into her ears and keeps them there for the duration of the performance. You can’t fight the music: it’s infectious. Knees start to shake, torsos twitch, feet tap as the Temptations and Four Tops take the stage for a doo-wop duel.
The stage is set for Berry Gordy, controversial visionary /creator of Motown Records, to begin his story.
As we travel through Gordy’s life experiencing his slow building acquisition of talent, we begin to understand the connection of the story through the music he helped produce. Music, that immediately brings you back in time to sitting in the front seat of your dad’s car (not the backseat. That’s another story altogether).
Berry rises as a young songwriter, forms his record label, acquires legendary acts; and he does it all with a seemingly effortless understanding of the industry. Was this a hypochondriacal symptom of Gordy’s self-serving biography? The biography that inspired the musical?
Thanks to the power of Suspension of Disbelief, you can float through these thoughts because LOOK, it’s the legendary Smokey Robinson about to sing You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me. For a moment, in my seat, I forget that the woman singing is not a young Diana Ross. It’s 1967, and I am just a marveling audience member.
By the time we round the corner for intermission, racial tension escalates…and I’m about ready to go home from exhaustion. I hate that I know how it all turns out. The label that had defied the status quo would soon get squashed out by autotuners and YouTubers.
I whisper to Marielle that I think we’ve hit the point of diminishing returns in the evening. She sagely suggests a return to the bar, pushing along in hopes that the second drink will set everything right.
Back in the theatre, when the lights dim again, something is different. The story begins to pick up pace, original music seems to blend better with the performance. The waaah-ping moment happens when a young Michael Jackson takes the stage with his brothers to perform bits of their greatest hits. The crowd is moved and you can see the performers feeding off their energy.
I start thinking about the anthropological importance of live performance, the synchronicity needed, a perfect energetic transference of information – and though the importance of diversity is the dominant theme in Motown, the universal theme is predominantly louder: the unjust order of time and coincidence spares no one.
Shows like this have a value outside of mere entertainment. They serve as a time machine that takes us to a time in history, tells us a story we should not ever want to forget.
So was the storyline slow at times? Yes. Was there too much singing? Yes. (But maybe I hate musicals.) Did I find it difficult to endure the over 60 songs presented? Only a little bit.
Was I entertained? Uplifted? Slight inebriation aside, it’s safe to say yes. I’m glad to have sat in that pocket of time when Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Rick James shone their brightest. Please don’t tell my brain that they weren’t the real thing.
MOTOWN THE MUSICAL: FACTS & FIGURES
Motown The Musical opened on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on April 14, 2013, and the first national tour opened May 8, 2014, at Chicago’s Oriental Theatre.
The musical includes more than 60 beloved hits from the Motown catalogue. The music in the show was arranged and orchestrated to resemble the original Motown recordings.
Over 7,500 people have auditioned for the show at open calls held in New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Charlotte.
The national tour travels with 33 actors, 15 crew members, 10 musicians, and 3 stage mangers. Local crew members and musicians join the touring company in each city.
The production travels from city to city on 8 semi-trailer trucks.
More than 450 costumes appear onstage at each performance, including 14 Swarovski crystal encrusted dresses and 6 pairs of Swarovski crystal encrusted shoes with more 900,000 beads and sequins.
Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright, MOTOWN THE MUSICAL is the true American dream story of Motown founder Berry Gordy’s journey from featherweight boxer to the heavyweight music mogul who launched the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and so many more.
Featuring more than 40 classic hits such as “My Girl” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” MOTOWN THE MUSICAL tells the story behind the hits as Diana, Smokey, Berry and the whole Motown family fight against the odds to create the soundtrack of change in America. Motown shattered barriers, shaped our lives and made us all move to the same beat.
MOTOWN THE MUSICAL features choreography by Patricia Wilcox (A Night with Janis Joplin) and Warren Adams (Toy Story), scenic design by David Korins (Bring It On: The Musical, Annie), costume design by Tony Award® nominee ESosa (The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, “Project Runway”), lighting design by Tony Award® winner Natasha Katz (Once, Sister Act), sound design by Tony Award® nominee Peter Hylenski (Rock of Ages, The Scottsboro Boys), projection design by Daniel Brodie (Jekyll and Hyde), hair and wig design by Charles LaPointe (Memphis) and casting by Telsey + Company.
MOTOWN THE MUSICAL’s arrangements and orchestrations are by Grammy and Tony Award® nominee Ethan Popp (Rock of Ages), who also serves as music supervisor in reproducing the classic “Sound of Young America,” with co-orchestrations and additional arrangements by Tony Award® nominee Bryan Crook (“Smash”) and dance arrangements by Zane Mark (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels).
MOTOWN THE MUSICAL is produced by Tony Award® winning producer Kevin McCollum (Rent, In the Heights, Avenue Q), Chairman and CEO of SONY Music Entertainment Doug Morris and Motown founder Berry Gordy.