By Jovana Golubovic
VANCOUVER – When I discovered that Motown the Musical was adapted from Berry Gordy’s own memoirs, To Be Loved, I better understood the musical’s diplomatic and washy storytelling. Expecting a somewhat exposé of the record label empire, I instead found a benefit-of-the-doubt reenactment, with any drama reserved for the songs. The musical is light-hearted and completely entertaining, with many laugh-out-loud moments telling the rags-to-riches tale of an independent record label that was so much more than just a label.
The triple-threat performers impressively captured the essence of their characters and stellar performances were given all around. Trenyce’s voice perfectly matched Diana Ross’s silky soprano and delectable pronunciation, while showing her transition from docile teenager to mega diva. Justin Reynolds pleasingly delivered Smoky Robinson’s iconic tenor while charming the audience with the ambitious and uplifting persona of the genius songwriter. Matt Manuel as Marvin Gaye was magnetic and powerful in song and in script. Berry Gordy, played by Kenneth Mosley, although occupying the lead role and sentimentally singing his heart out, remained mysterious while delivering wise words and sound advice in powerful one-liners.
Cramming a ton of information and even more songs into two hours and 45 minutes, the script leaves a few things unexplained, like the reasoning behind Motown’s move from Detroit to Los Angeles. The first act is exciting and effervescent; the second act trudges along laboriously fulfilling facts. This felt appropriate, as chronologically the initial thrill of Motown would have been in decline as the original artists fizzled out and business as well as personal problems piled up.
Motown the Musical celebrates the record house’s role in fighting racism in a grossly segregated 1960s America. Motown created a style so alluring it transcended racial boundaries. With earworm pop hooks like neon lights on a backdrop of R&B, it produced hit after hit to be enjoyed be all people. The sets and costumes were gorgeous, creating a mesmerizing transition from the sweetness of the 50s and 60s into the kaleidoscopic sexiness of the 70s, complimenting the evolution of popular music styles.
Presenting some songs as live concerts and others as spur-the-moment occasions, the music and dancing were top notch. The pit musicians under the direction of Matthew Croft, played with immaculate precision and groove as the amazingly talented cast did their thing.
An emotional trip down memory lane for baby boomers and a beautiful lesson in music history for younger audiences, Motown the Musical captures a time that will never come again.
Motown the Musical, March 6 at Queen Elizabeth Theatre