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Thursday, September 28, 2023
"Motown: The Musical" celebrates black music culture. 

"Motown: The Musical" celebrates black music culture. 

"Motown: The Musical" hits Overture Center

Talk about being taken back in time and reliving moments that shaped Black culture. “Motown: The Musical” takes us on a dramatic dance-driven, musically spirited trip back to the glory days of Detroit. From beginning to end, we are reminded why Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, The Jackson 5 and many more key individuals in music took the performance world by storm.

“Motown: The Musical” is stage gold. Based on Berry Gordy’s 1994 memoir “To Be Loved,” the storytelling musical showcases why some of our R&B icons are still so impactful today. The musical features ’60s and ’70s classics with more than 40 unforgettable tunes that include “My Girl,” “Baby Love,” “Dancing in the Streets” and “I Want You Back”—singles that you can still find on nearly every streaming platform today.

There’s music, drama, love, guilt and above all, a message. This isn’t the typical rags-to-riches story of a record label that miraculously became established and recognized by the music industry. Instead, it is a body of work created by African Americans in hopes of establishing race equality through musical exploration to bring change for black people in America.

Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. reminds us of the difficulty in finding the balance between business and pleasure. The plot and dialogue throughout the play use a sociopolitical approach through film clips from major stamps in history: the Civil Rights Movement backdrop, the globally impactful assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy and also Robert F. Kennedy. The musical illustrates how Motown used music to address still relevant stories that impacted the brown and black community.

If we break down the actual storyline of the musical, Gordy’s struggles are redundant; we are repeatedly reminded of his struggle to follow his dreams, the emotional roller-coaster he experiences with love and his music label. Gordy’s dreams become more distant as he notices his roster of artists diminish; many of the artists he signed to Motown eventually move on to other record labels. This leaves Gordy with the slim option of either keeping Motown alive or letting it dwindle into nothing.

Keeping the Motown music label alive is just one problem. Gordy’s love story with The Supremes singer Diana Ross drives him madly in love and madly insane. He wants to manage Ross, but loses himself in the musical direction of Motown and grows to neglect Ross when they are together. The sole focus of their romance dramatically narrows the depth that can occur in regards to African American empowerment. Instead of looking for the validation that African Americans sought from successful black icons in power during that time, the meaning is lost in translation. The topics that the musical fails to address include the inclusion of African Americans as a respected race, and the difficulty in becoming a commercial success or maintaining one’s artistic integrity.

This does not take away from the expertise in transitions. Not only were the physical transitions in the musical done expertly, but the transitions through the two-decade evolution of the Motown sound were great ways to demonstrate the growth in artistry and musical direction that Motown eventually took. For about half of the musical the main focus was Diana Ross. Albeit, Gordy loves Ross and it’s understandable why there is so much focus on her, but other musical acts like The Jackson 5 and Stevie Wonder are minimally included.

Surprisingly, the show lasted almost three hours, but did not feel long at all. An overall successful moment of the night was the inclusion of the audience; Ross ditches the stage for a more down-to-earth moment with the audience, which is then followed by the return of former and current Motown members on stage. Like a homecoming for a feel-good finale, the show receives a well-deserved standing ovation.

“Motown: The Musical” is artistic healing. This musical resembles the beauty in African American activism and existence. It does not fall short of satisfying its audience. It’s a true blessing to have this musical shown worldwide to millions of viewers. The music is necessary. The space is necessary. The stories are vital to the growth of brown and black culture and “Motown: The Musical” does an exceptional job reviving the moments in music that shaped our world today.

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