My wife and I have seen a lot of wonderful shows at the Durham Performing Arts Center but we both agree this week that “Motown the Musical” has to be one of our favorites. The music and performers were all top notch and the show literally had people dancing in their seats throughout the evening. The touring production is performing at DPAC this week through Sunday and I HIGHLY recommend you go see the show before it leaves town.
The show is absolutely packed with songs with over 40 hits from the Motown Era spanning the 1960’s through the 80’s. The story follows the 25 year journey of Motown founder Berry Gordy’s from his early years as a struggling boxer to becoming the music mogul who launched Motown Records and the music careers of such icons as Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, and The Temptations. It is virtually a non-stop journey through all of your favorite Motown hits while educating the audience along the way.
Chester Gregory is fantastic embodying the spirit of Motown founder Berry Gordy. He has to work very hard throughout the evening as he appears in almost every scene and sings so many times I lost count, but each time is an absolute treat. Gregory does a nice job capturing the drive of Gordy and his struggle to make Motown Records a success and keep the family of singers together. He is equally convincing in later scenes as he falls into despair and anger as the stars he created begin to abandon him and the label to move on with their careers and more lucrative music contracts elsewhere.
Allison Semmes, is spectacular as Diana Ross, Gordy’s love interest. Her singing was beautiful and was not merely a mimicry of the iconic Ross. Instead she brought some of her own personality to the role and truly made it her own in a special way. She is fantastic throughout and truly shines when she interacts with the audience during the “Reach Out and Touch” number. The relationship between Ross and Gordy becomes the more prominent them in the second act, but it is a perfect vehicle for capturing the overall arc of Motown’s evolution and transformation over time.
While the “Motown” ensemble as a whole is impressive throughout, there are few notable standout moments. Like seeing the spirit of the Jackson 5 captured on stage and the amazing performance given by North Carolina’s Own Malcolm Armwood as Marvin Gaye, exhibiting a rebellious streak as Gaye sometimes finds himself in conflict with his boss. Armwood’s rendition of “What’s Going On” was one of the biggest crowd pleasers of the night.
It was striking that after all these years the message of that popular song is maybe even more relevant today than ever. While most of the show is a celebration of the music of Motown, there are a few more serious moments that provide an emotional reminder of the challenges and discrimination that had to be overcome during the rise of Motown and the success of its singers in a world that was not always as accepting of them as people as they were of their music.
It really is hard to capture just how much fun this show was. There were literally people in the seats next to me dancing and clapping along to the songs all night long. I truly loved seeing these talented performers recreate the hits of the Motown icons, and a learned quite a bit about how the Motown movement came to be and the industrious spirit of Berry Gordy and its founding pioneers that created such a wonderful musical family that has stood the test of time.
“Motown the Musical” has performances at DPAC through Sunday, August 6th. For tickets visit https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/motown-2017.