Powerful Motown The Musical Burns Down the House

Motown the Musical CLIFTON OLIVER (Berry Gordy) Clifton Oliver is honored to be a part of the Motown family. Broadway: The Lion King (Simba), In The Heights (Benny opposite Jordin Sparks), Wicked (Fiyero). Nat'l Tours: The Lion King (Simba), Rent (Benny & Collins), Ragtime (Ensemble). Regional: Pal Joey (Arkansas Rep.), Kinky Boots (Lola's standby for Bill Porter), West Coast Tour of The Scottsboro Boys (Charlie/Victoria), Smokey Joe?s Cafe (Victor), Godspell (Judas) MUNY. Television: "Law and READ MORE ? ALLISON SEMES (Diana Ross) Chicago native. B.M. Opera at UIUC, M.M. from NYU-Steinhardt.  Broadway credits: Motown the Musical, Florence Ballard & The Book of Mormon, Nabalungi U/S, Swing. Other credits include: The Color Purple National Tour, Dreamgirls, Bubbling Brown Sugar, The Wiz, Candide. I want to thank you Bethany and everyone at Telsey, Renee, my CCC/ KACC/ GIAME families, Momma & Poppa Bear, Emile, QVD, and my friends for the unconditional love and support! READ MORE ? NICHOLAS CHRISTOPHER (Smokey Robinson) Born in Bermuda and raised in Boston, MA. Studied at both The Boston Conservatory and The Juilliard  School. 1st National Tour: In The Heights. Off-Broadway: Rent, Hurt Village. Thank you family, friends and SMS for your lurve and support. JARRAN MUSE (Marvin Gaye) A native Jersey boy couldn't be happier living his dream.  God is good yall. Broadway/NYC: Motown The Musical, Irving Berlin's White Christmas, Dreamgirls; International Tours: American Idiot, Dreamgirls, Hairspray, 42nd Street. Regional Theater: Marriott Lincolnshire, Portland Center Stage (Will Parker in Oklahoma!), Goodspeed, Fulton Opera Houses, Pittsburgh CLO.  Thank you to Mr. GORDY, Charles, and Telsey for this new opportunity to bring Marvin to stage READ MORE ? ERICK BUCKLEY (Ensemble) Broadway/National Tours: Valjean in Les Miserables, Uncle Fester in The Addams Family, Dave in The Full Monty, Piangi in The Phantom of the Opera, Gangster #1 Kiss Me, Kate, Roger in Grease. Favorite roles; Husband to Robin, Dad to Miranda. PATRICE COVINGTON (Ensemble) The Book of Mormon, Dreamgirls (Effie), Ain?t Misbehavin? (Armelia).  Find her self-titled original album & the Grammy nominated Ain't Misbehavin on iTunes.  Numerous National Voiceovers. Instagram: @Sangtrice.  ?Don?t be a star?be a galaxy!? JAMARICE DAUGHTRY (Ensemble) From Bartow, Florida, Bethune Cookman Univesity Alum. Member of the Stellar Award Winning Group ?Group Therapy.?  Winner of the ?Grady Rayam Prize in Negro Spirituals.? Thank you to my mom Sharon for always supporting me! ASHLEY TAMAR DAVIS (Ensemble) Tours: Prince. Theatre: Perry Productions. TV: "SNL," "BRIT Awards." Grammy-nominated; co-wrote "Beautiful, Loved, and Blessed." Graduate of USC School of Music. Thanks to God, family, friends! www.tamardavis.com.  LYNORRIS EVANS (Ensemble) Lynorris is thrilled to join the National Tour of Motown the Musical. Broadway: Leap of Faith. Tours: Flashdance, Memphis. Cirque Du Soleil: Viva Elvis. BFA: Fordham University. Thanks to my supportive family and friends.  MELANIE EVANS (Ensemble) National/International: Radio City Christmas Spectacular, Junie B Jones, Disney's Believe (original cast). New York Workshop: Amazing Grace. Regional: Sarah/Ragtime, and Nehebka/AIDA. AMDA graduate. Thank you to The Mine and Telsey casting!     DEVON GOFFMAN (Swing) Hometown: BUFFALO, NY! Tours: Jersey Boys, Grease (w/ Frankie Avalon), Titanic, Buddy.  Film: Michael & Javier. Thank you Bethany, everyone at Telsey & Judy Boals. Love to my family!  In loving memory of Jack Greenan. JENNIE HARNEY (Swing) Brooklyn Baby! Broadway: Broadway Rising Stars (featured). National: We The People (Dawn). Regional: Dreamgirls (Deena), Thunder Knocking On the Door (Glory), Beehive (Jasmine), Pearl (Pearl Bailey) AUDELCO Nominee. Thanks to God, Mom & Dad! LATRISA A. HARPER (Swing) Fort Pierce, Fl. Ailey II. Broadway: The Color Purple, The Lion King.  Broadway workshop: Beehive with Debbie Allen. A.R.T: Witness Uganda. Love to family and Susan Batson Studios. ROD HARRELSON (Swing) Excited to be a part of the Motown Tour! Originally from Greensboro, NC, began dancing at UNC-Chapel Hill. Love and thanks to God and family. This one's for Cynthia. ROBERT HARTWELL (Ensemble) Proud magna cum laude University of Michigan.  Broadway: Memphis (Wailin' Joe), Nice Work (Astaire Award nominee), Cinderella. Tours: Dreamgirls. Host and Interior Designer of web series "Broadway Quick Change". Jeremiah 29:11.  As always, for Nana. RODNEY EARL JACKSON, JR. (Ensemble) So honored to be part of a theatrical experience surrounded by love. Broadway/Tour(s): Book of Mormon. Born/raised in the heart of San Francisco where he founded the Bay Area Theatre Company (BATCo). CMU Drama BFA. TRISHA JEFFREY (Ensemble) 2013 Broadway World Chicago Best Actress for ?Celie? in The Color Purple! Broadway: Little Shop Of Horrors; All Shook Up; Rent. Tour: Sister Act; Rent.  Full bio: http://trishajeffrey.com. @trishajeffrey. Love & gratitude. GRASAN KINGSBERRY (Ensemble) A Juilliard alumnus, Grasan joins this company directly from the Broadway production of Motown. Broadway: Nice Work?, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Color Purple, Aida. Tour: Dreamgirls (u/s Curtis). Film/TV: I Am Legend, ?Smash,? ?All My Children.? www.grasan-kingsberry.com. ELIJAH AHMAD LEWIS (Ensemble) Off-Broadway: Mama I Want To Sing (Minister Of Music), Sing Harlem Sing, We Are.  Regional: Once On This Island (Papa Ge), Guys and Dolls (Nathan Detroit).  Film: Mama I Want To Sing, America (Rosie O?Donnell).  Would like to thank my family and all who have helped along the way. www.elijahahmadlewis.com.  JARVIS B. MANNING JR. (Ensemble) Houston, TX native. This is his first Equity production and he feels honored and blessed that it's with Motown! This performance is dedicated to his AMAZING family, especially his Aunt Barbs! THANK YOU GOD! KRISHA MARCANO (Ensemble) Broadway: Motown on Broadway; The Color Purple (Squeak, Original Cast); Sweet Charity; Aida; Fosse (1st Nat Tour). Concert Dance: Martha Graham Dance Co.; Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.  Krisha is a proud member of AEA. MARQ MOSS (Ensemble) Background Vocalist: Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Carole King, Anita Baker, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross. Graduate of Clark Atlanta University.  B?way Tour: The Lion King (u/s Simba). Thanks God, family and friends. Hey, Mom!! www.marqkmoss.com. RASHAD NAYLOR (Ensemble) Broadway: Hairspray (Thad, Seaweed U/S, Original Cast Album), Jersey Boys (Barry Belson). Off-Broadway: RENT (Benny), Tours: Rock of Ages, The Book of Mormon. Regional: The Rat Pack (Sammy Davis Jr.), The Wiz (Scarecrow). CHADAÉ NICHOL (Ensemble) Chicagoland Native, Ball State grad,  Chadaé is overjoyed to embark on this historic Motown Tour! Regional: Showboat, Oklahoma, Cabaret, Little Shop. Thanks to God, And my support system! Brittyn you are my star. Matt 5:14. @ChadaeNichol. LEON OUTLAW JR. (Young Berry/Stevie/Michael Jackson) At a very young age Leon began to sing and dance to the amazement of his parents. Inspired by Michael Jackson and James Brown, Leon made his stage debut at age 9. Ecstatic about being a part of Motown and Thanks God, family & Friends. Facebook, Leon-C-Outlaw-Jr; Twitter, @leoncoutlawjr; Instagram, LJOutlaw312.  RAMONE OWENS (Ensemble) A Los Angeles native, Ramone is beyond thrilled to be a part of Motown. Regional: Disney's Aladdin, Dreamgirls, Man of La Mancha. BFA, Boston Conservatory. Thanks to God, Mom, Dad and my "we knows". Hab: 2:3. NIC ROWE (Swing) Nic is thrilled to be joining Motown!  Last seen in the world-premiere Duncan Sheik musical, Because of Winn Dixie.  Love to my family and friends, boys & girl at Henderson/Hogan Agency. A graduate of The Boston Conservatory.    JAMISON SCOTT (Ensemble) Broadway: Spider-Man, Memphis, Grease. Tour/Regional:  Grease, Hairspray, We Will Rock You, Saturday Night Fever, Altar Boyz.  Recordings: Hairspray movie, Killer Queen- A Tribute to Queen, Grease 2007 Cast Album. To God be the glory! ILYHMS.  @JamisonScottR. REED LORENZO SHANNON (Young Berry/Stevie/Michael Jackson) Reed was trained at NC Theatre Conservatory.  He has performed roles in NCTC productions of Who?s Tommy, In the Heights and on the main stage in Oliver!. Reed received rave reviews while in the cast of ?Les Misérable? (2014 ? Gavroche) with NCT and Broadway Series South. www.reedshannon.com. DOUGLAS STORM (Ensemble) Broadway: Les Miserables, Jekyll & Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Dance of the Vampires, Chess in Concert; Off-Broadway: Bat Boy (original cast); Other: Disney?s Tarzan, Because of Winn Dixie, Heathers; 20yr member of Actors Equity Association. MARTINA SYKES (Ensemble) Native of St. Petersburg, FL and graduate of the University of Florida. Favorite credits (Regional): Raindogs, Rent, Hairspray. "I would like to thank GOD, my family and friends for their unconditional love and support). Ephesians 3:20. CHRISTIAN DANTE WHITE (Ensemble) Scottsboro Boys: Broadway/London. NY/Tours: Book of Mormon, Hairspray, The Wiz,  Lost In the Stars, Cotton Club Parade, Jersey Boys. TV: NBC pilot "Man?s World," "Tonys Awards." Mom, Boo, Tosh, Kerrs, Sheehans, Headline, SBI, memory of UNC BROTHER. GALEN J. WILLIAMS (Swing) Galen is is THRILLED to be on his very first tour with Motown. Favorite past credits: Black Nativity, Passing Strange, Three Little Birds, 2-2 Tango, BDF Circle of Dreams. BFA, Howard University.

The Jackson Five medley is a highlight of Motown the Musical at the Broward Center / Photo by Joan Marcus

By Bill Hirschman

They had me from hello, or at least from the wailing wall of distinctive sound given unprecedented power in the opening bars of Motown the Musical. It erupted like molten lava from the pit at the Broward Center: driving percussion, ripped out bass line, brassy horns, warbling guitars, muscular strings.

Seconds later, beginning with “I Can’t Help Myself,” two groups recreated that rousing Four Tops-Temptations battle of the bands in a medley of a dozen deathless classics. I was hooked.

By the time the entire cast backed up Martha and the Vandellas clones on an expanded “Dancin’ in the Street,” played with a size and power you’ve never heard behind it before, I was bought and paid for. And so was the opening night audience for the national tour.

Although it relies on scores of iconic numbers from the classic R&B catalog, Motown is not meant as a legends tribute concert by impersonators; it’s meant to be a musical theater biography about how Berry Gordy Jr. founded and developed the legendary record company and its unique sound, and how he and a roster of performers changed and charted the transformation of this country through tumultuous decades of the 20th Century. Frankly, that’s the weakest part of the show.

The framing device is the eve of the 25th anniversary concert in 1983 at which almost every one of the company’s stars, including those who deserted him, returned for a triumphant and reaffirming reunion. Then the bulk of the show switches into a single long flashback reaching to Gordy’s childhood when Joe Louis’ victory over Max Schmeling created a hero for a segregated America and a role model for Gordy.

It tracks Gordy’s unshakeable conviction as he borrows money from the family to open Hitsville U.S.A., as he attracts a group of hungry colleagues into a musical assembly line inspired by his days working in the auto factories, as he challenges the color barrier both whites-only radio songlists and segregated performing venues when his stars went on the road.

If the ensuing story comes off as reverential hagiography, the script is not just based on Gordy’s autobiography but ostensibly written by him as well, (although some script consultants are listed). The only warts it acknowledges is that Gordy was an obsessed workaholic and my-way-or-the-highway kind of guy, but all in the service of a great vision, you understand.

Whether or not the show means to, Motown does reveal Gordy as a paternalistic and controlling figure (with his artists’ best interests at heart, you understand), but still more sinned against than sinning as virtually every singer and writer he turns into a star other than Smokey Robinson deserts him for dollar-greener pastures.

The script is the weakest facet as it perfunctorily ticks off bullet items on a checklist of highlights of his life, never delving deeper than a single level. It’s also punctuated with dozens of such painfully self-conscious exchanges as when the Jackson Five audition. Someone says, “You know, they could be the biggest group ever.” To which Gordy intones with impossible prescience, “Yeah, but can they handle it?” Ooch. Ouch.

Something’s also uncomfortable mashing up of Motown, a street-based art form proud of its gritty authenticity, and a quintessential middlebrow white bread Broadway fantasy with all the tropes from production numbers to people breaking into song when they can’t contain themselves any longer.

But there’s little delay between the musical segments. There are about 66 numbers, so while it may not hit everyone’s personal favorites, it catches most of them. Many numbers are presented more or less uncut, others have been artfully shaved down and many have been turned into medleys. Many are presented by the groups and artists who sang them, almost all benefiting from a little more oomph in the stage orchestrations than on record or am radio speaker.

In true Broadway fashion, others are melded into the narrative. Some people will flinch at this (using “War” as a dance number for the Vietnam War felt a bit obvious). But others were inventive, such as Gordy and Diana Ross pledging their devotion during a Paris respite with the Ashford-Simpson Gaye-Terrell “You’re All I Need To Get By.”

Others are compelling “stage” presentations such as the scorching “Ball of Confusion” that opens the second act. Or when Diana Ross comes into the audience and drafts a couple of audience members to sing with her “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)”

The renditions of these classics are not digital copies. The voices are close to the original but not Memorex. Every once in a while the phasing isn’t laser-perfect, although sometimes the lyrics are more distinct than you have ever heard them before.

Unless you attended concerts at the Apollo Theater or some similar venue, you’ve likely never heard most of these songs with such a fullness and richness and power, certainly not coming from the AM radio speaker in your father’s car or from that black-and-white television. The band led by music director Darryl Archibald, including ten local musicians gathered for the first time that morning, hit the groove from the downbeat and never faltered.

The tour cast is indefatigable as well as talented. Clifton Oliver exudes the joyful confidence that Gordy must radiate throughout the show. He has a strong voice that embraces numerous numbers, but especially the 11o’ clock number that Gordy wrote for this show with Michael Lovesmith, “Can I Close The Door (On Love).” His acting is adequate, although the one-dimensional script doesn’t give him much to work with.

The standout, though, is the slender magnetic Allison Semmes who doesn’t look much like Diana Ross (no one in the cast looks much like their real-life character) but she just blazes through the show with a melded doppelganger of Ross’ sound and charisma, but also with a flavor of Semmes’ own voice.

In 2009, I wrote in a review, “The incandescence named Allison Semmes is currently electrifying Broward Stage Door Theatre’s resurrection of the Harlem Renaissance jukebox musical Bubbling Brown Sugar… Even in a cast of 16, however, she stands out with a polished Broadway voice, toothpaste-ad grin, flashing eyes and amped-up flair that’s evident in her angular body language and vivacious delivery.” Nothing has changed in her current role.

When she, Krisha Marcano and Trisha Jeffrey launch into “Stop, In the Name of Love” or any of the other essentials with a milky smoothness, someone must have hooked up the seats in the auditorium to a car battery.

Jesse Nagar makes a fine Smokey Robinson although he really doesn’t look a thing like Smokey. The crowd favorite is Leon Outlaw Jr. (alternating with Reed L. Shannon) as Little Stevie Wonder and then Michael Jackson whose Jackson Five medley is a veritable time machine.

But special note is due Jarran Muse as Marvin Gaye. While most people want to get on their feet for the big power numbers, its Muse’s heartfelt rendition of “What’s Going On” and especially an a cappella version of “Mercy, Mercy Me” that are the most moving moments of the show.

As you’d expect, the choreography by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams is a hip-swinging, full-spin recreation of every move you ever saw on American Bandstand and Soul Train.

And the costumes were hundreds of painfully period perfect wardrobe including delightfully outlandishly items that will have audience members wincing at the thought that such an outfit is still in the back of their closet.

It’s not a perfect Broadway show by any means; it actually feels a tad long and even overstuffed despite the propulsive never-flagging pacing from director Charles Randolph-Wright.

But when the entire cast joins in with Diana Ross for the overwhelming curtain closer (“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” naturally), the audience is compelled to join the celebration.

Motown the Musical runs Feb. 24-March 8 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts as part of the Broadway Across America-Fort Lauderdale series, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Performances are 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. Sunday. Tickets approximately $34.75 – $153.  Running time 2 hours 45 minutes with one intermission. For more information, call 954-462-0222 or visit BrowardCenter.org.

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