January 14, 2015


In the 80s, Lypsinka Von Rasputina told me that I "had" to go with her to see the original production of Dreamgirls, which was closing. Because it was just that phenomenal. Since I'm not a Broadway queen, I decided to trust her and it paid off. I can't thank her enough for that wonderful experience. Now I'd like to tell you about another incredible show which closes Sunday which I can't recommend highly enough with an unqualified rave: MOTOWN.

It's silly to say Motown's the "best show" I've seen on Broadway because musical aren't like plays or even other musicals. But I will say that Motown is the most fun I've ever had in any Broadway Theater. I was crying tears of joy with my hands in the air in absolute shock over the amount of talent bursting from that stage. To be fair, I love soul music and grew up with the Motown sound (i.e. old), so I'm biased. But if you ever wanted to be a fly on the wall when Diana Ross was just signed, first flirted with Barry Gordy or decided to ditch The Supremes and go solo--you'll have an orgasm when you see an actress who is Miss Ross's twin re-enacting these moments. With show-stopping performances of her hits in between singing notes Diana could never try to hit! That's the wonder of this show--the talent level is so incredibly high. These are actors, singers and dancers who are trained to perform anything from Lion King to Black And Blue, so they sometimes deliver numbers with more energy or direction than the soul superstars they portray: Gladys Knight, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, The Marvelletes, Rick James, Teena Marie,The Commodores and a little cutie doing young Michael Jackson who did him such justice that the crowd immediately erupted with approval. 

I haven't seen many musical reviews like Mamma Mia or Jersey Boys because those weren't my jams. These are. So I can't tell you this type of show normally illustrates the plot with songs from their genre. But Motown had so many hits, they had to cut many of them just to squeeze in the ones they kept. The music is the real star here, though the elements of segregation, the shootings of JFK and MLK and the rise of the black power movement happen along the way. I thought they illustrated everything with the hits very effectively. For example: the ensemble performs Edwin Starr's seismic 70's hit War which ends with a dramatic gun shot. Cue Marvin Gaye's What's Going On. As the label moved from polished, upscale 1960s perfection to funky 70s with a social consciousness, one scene depicts Marvin Gaye begging Barry Gordy to record Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology). Add radiation to it and this could have been written yesterday:
Woo mercy, mercy me, mercy father
Ah things ain't what they used to be, no no
Oil wasted on the ocean and upon our seas, fish full of mercury 
And as far as relevance, how about these lyrics from Marvin's Inner City Blues?
Crime is increasing
Panic is spreading
God know where we're heading
Oh, make me wanna holler
I don't want you to think the show is heavy or focuses on a political agenda. But Motown's success happened against a very dramatic background of upheaval. And I truly believe that one of Mr. Gordy's accomplishments was to ease racial tensions through great music. And this music is so joyous that seeing it performed with a full orchestra that is simply thrilling. If songs like Ain't No Mountain High Enough, Heard It Through The Grapevine, ABC, Do You Love Me?, Cruisin', Reach Out And Touch (Somebody's Hand), My Girl, My Guy and Please Mr. Postman are the soundtracks of your lives as well, do yourself a favor and get tickets now. Get the cheap ones or expensive ones--someone said there were standing room tix for $35. Reconnect with this soul-shaking, ground-breaking music while you learn the story of how it came to be, with plenty of humor thrown in along the way. And a fantastic, changing set that reflects each new era. Dazzling costumes in every scene!
Of course, I need to shout out to the very talented Dwayne Milan, who appears as Norman Whitfield--who leaves Motown to produces hits like Car Wash--and a variety of other ensemble roles with his afro growing as the 70s progress. I'm a little old fashioned and usually prefer drag queens to stay in drag. I don't want to see Dolly Parton or Carol Channing out of drag and I feel the same way about most queens. But Dwayne is one of those rare, versatile performance who enthralled me last night in male roles just as he's enthralled me as Donna Summer, Kelly Rowland and a variety of other drag character and androgynous pop personas. He's a singer, dancer, comedian, songwriter, comedy writer--the list just goes on and on. So on a personal level, it was a real treat to see him do his thang on a Broadway stage. But you don't need to know "Miss" Milan to enjoy this show. And you have only until Sunday to enjoy it. And you will, so don't you dare miss it! It's touring so make sure you catch it when if it comes your way. You will thank me as I still thank Lypstinka to this day!