Twenty-five years of Motown history and nearly five-dozen Top 40 hits performed by twenty-two triple-threats to rival Broadway’s best make for one fabulous Motown: The Musical, now playing at Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center For The Arts.

From the 1938 Joe Louis-vs.-Max Schmeling prize-fight that inspired eight-year-old Berry Gordy to seek his own greatness, to the early Motown years in the Motor City, to Motown’s first decade of hits, to the label’s 1970s ventures into film-making, to the series of betrayals that marked the end of Motown’s first quarter-century, Motown: The Musical tells it all, and does so with more infectious songs in a single show than you’ve likely heard in the last two or three musicals you’ve seen put together.

Book writer Gordy’s multitude of memories also include seeing his Motown hit-makers performing before segregated audiences in the 1960s South, being called out by activists for not displaying enough radical fervor, Stevie Wonder lobbying for a national Dr. Martin Luther King Day, and on a more personal note, the Motown CEO’s five-year relationship with the woman he made his label’s biggest star.

For this second national tour to play the Segerstrom, Schele Williams stages Charles Randolph-White’s original Broadway direction with abundant verve, Brian Harlan Brooks recreates Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams’s distinctively Motown choreography with equally ample pizzazz, and a cast of rising stars deliver one powerhouse performance after another.

SoCal favorite Kenneth Mosley anchors the production with his multifaceted, deeply-felt Berry Gordy, shows off velvety power pipes in the tear-inducing “Can I Close The Door” (written for Motown: The Musical by Gordy and Michael Lovesmith), and ignites romantic sparks with the mononymous (and simply sensational) Trenyce, so utterly convincing as Motown’s biggest moneymaker that you just might think you’re seeing and hearing Miss Ross live-and-in-person on the Segerstrom stage. (Trenyce’s sing-along “Reach Out And Touch” has audience members doing just that, and a few of them joining in for their own duet with Diana.)

Justin Reynolds lights up the stage as Smokey Robinson and sings so sublimely in Smokey’s trademark falsetto that Jersey Boys’ Frankie Valli should be on this up-and-comer’s bucket list of must-play roles.

Matt Manuel makes for a memorable, increasingly politicized Marvin Gaye, seventh-grader Kai Calhoun wins hearts and earns cheers as a Jackson 5-era Michael, and a supporting cast of seventeen dazzle both as individual stars like Stevie Wonder or Mary Wells or as members of The Temptations, The Supremes, The Miracles, The Marvelettes, The Four Tops, The Vandellas, The Jackson 5 and more or as behind-the-scenes characters like Berry’s sibling business partners, Motown exec Suzanne de Passe, and even Ed Sullivan (who gave “three colored girls from Detroit” their first national exposure).

Triple-threat-tastic ensemble members Tracy Byrd, Arielle Crosby, Devin Holloway, Quiana Holmes, assistant dance captain Kayla Jenerson, EJ King, dance captain Brett Michael Lockley, Jasmine Maslanova-Brown, Rob McCaffrey, Trey McCoy, Alia Munsch, Erick Patrick, Eric Peters, Eran Scoggins, swing Ayla Stackhouse, Cartreze Tucker, and Dre’ Woods not only sing and dance show-stoppingly but get the costume-&-wig-changing workouts of their lives.

Nick Abbott, Matthew Keaton, Isaac Saunders Jr., Nate Summers, and Nazarria Workman are poised to step into ensemble tracks when needed. Chase Phillips alternates with Calhoun as Young Berry, Young Stevie, and Young Michael.

Under Matthew Croft’s expert musical direction and featuring Peter Hylenski’s Tony-nominated sound design, Motown: The Musical sounds as spectacular as it looks, and it looks pretty darned spectacular thanks to scenic designer David Korins, lighting designer Natasha Katz, projection designer Daniel Brodie, and hair-&-wig designer Charles G. LaPointe, all of whom give the show plenty of Vegas flash.

Most memorable of all are Emlilo Sosa’s glitzy, glorious, glamorous array of costumes, and if any musical in Broadway history has featured more outfits for its cast to wear (often for only seconds each), I can’t recall having seen it.

J. Andrew Blevins is production stage manager.

Whether as a crash course on Motown For Millennials, a trip down memory lane for Boomers, or a bit of both for Generation Xers, Motown: The Musical adds up to the most crowd-pleasing bio-musical since Jersey Boys took Broadway by storm. I dare you not to want to sing along.

follow on twitter small

Segerstrom Center For The Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

–Steven Stanley
December 19, 2017
Photos: Joan Marcus


Tags: , , , , ,

Comments are closed.