Nothing has the power to unite people quite like the power of music.
This is one of the central themes of “Motown: The Musical,” a jukebox musical about the famous pop record label Motown. It follows the life of Berry Gordy, founder of Motown, as well as the lives of those around him during the record label’s peak years.
“Motown: The Musical” will be returning to Philadelphia for a two-week engagement May 30 through June 11 at the Academy of Music. It’s an insanely fun show featuring over 50 classic Motown songs, spanning from its origins in the late ’50s to the mid-’80s. The musical broke box office records in Philadelphia in 2015, selling the most tickets in Kimmel Center history for a two-week production of any show.
You’ll find yourself singing along to a shocking amount of familiar songs, all released by the Motown label. Just a few of these hits include “Stop! In the Name of Love” by The Supremes, “My Girl” by The Temptations, “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye, “I Want You Back” by The Jackson 5 and “I Wish” by Stevie Wonder.
The actors who portrayed Stevie Wonder (Elijah Ahmad Lewis), young Michael Jackson (Raymond Davis Jr.), Diana Ross (Allison Semmes) and Marvin Gaye (Jarran Muse) were delightfully on point with their impressions. Chester Gregory, who played Berry Gordy, excelled in the lead role. His singing and acting was impeccable, pulling everyone in and making the character relatable and sympathetic.
The musical delved into the professional and romantic relationship between Berry and Diana, which started when he signed The Supremes early on in Motown’s history. The two characters had great chemistry together onstage, making their scenes together very enjoyable.
The pacing of the show was perfect; it never got boring with each scene leaping forward in time, sometimes years ahead. Each scene was packed with action and different songs, which even turned into a sing-along at times. There were even some great audience interactions; during one scene, Diana came out into the audience and sang her hit “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” with a few different people in the crowd.
Another moment that was particularly special also happened during “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand).” Led by the actors onstage, everyone in the audience began joining hands and waving them in the air together. It was a powerful moment proving just how uniting music can be, even for people who have never met.
“Motown: The Musical” addressed a huge obstacle for the label at that point in history, which was race relations in America in light of the Civil Rights Movement in the ’60s. Gordy had a very difficult time getting many radio stations to play Motown singles, most wrote them off as “race music.” Also, when some of the Motown groups started touring, they ran into trouble with racist people in the South. One of the most powerful and emotional scenes was the moment they heard about the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
All in all, the show is filled with drama, comedy and lots of great music! Even if you don’t recognize all the song titles, you’ll surely recognize the tunes once they start singing them. So many great classics were born out of Motown, and “Motown: The Musical” cements its place in history as one of the most influential labels of all time.