Monday, April 22, 2013

Theater Review: Motown

History Lessons Normally Aren't This Entertaining
By Lauren Yarger
The life of music legend Berry Gordy, written by Berry Gordy turns out to be an entertaining trip down memory lane featuring around 60 songs from the Motown catalog that made him famous.
Motown the Musical spans decades from 1938 to 1983 to tell the biography of Berry (Brandon Victor Dixon) and the story of the record label that brought fame to acts like Diana Ross (Valisa LeKae), Smoky Robinson (a terrific Charl Brown who looks and sounds like the legend), Marvin Gaye (Bryan Terrell Clark) and Michael Jackson (Raymond Luke, Jr. the night I attended, and Jibreel Mawry).

Part history lesson, part invitation to the most intimate parts of Berry's life and part toe tapping, hand-clapping good music, Motown satisfies on may levels.

There's romance: Ross and Berry are involved for a number of years personally as well as professionally. There's business intrigue as other labels start luring away Motown's artists. There's pathos -- the story revolves an 1983 reunion concert celebrating Motown, and Berry isn't sure he wants to go and be reminded of betrayals. Director Charles Randolph-Wright skillfully blends the elements and keeps us entertained for the more than two hours and 45 minutes running time.

Many of the songs, musically directed and arranged by Ethan Popp, are truncated, so we get just enough of our favorites without being overwhelmed. Berry's book also makes sense, so we aren't thinking Mama Mia, or how to string a bunch of songs together around a really dumb story. This one is more like Jersey Boys -- a decent biographical story with song placement that makes sense and helps tell the story. The band is great.

Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams add choreography that is easily recognizable for groups like the Jackson Five, The Marvelettes or The Temptations (there is a massive ensemble of 40 for this show). The vocals are good (Luke as a young Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Gordy Berry is a sensation). Standing out is John Jellison as a very funny Ed Sullivan.

The audience sings along and a few members are brought up on stage to help Diana Ross sing one of her numbers. The mood shifts in the second act as the music starts reflecting protests against war and racial injustice. Costumes advance the decades (design by Esosa with hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe) along with set and projection design by David Korins and Daniel Brodie. Overall, a fun and entertaining show.

Motown plays at the  Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 West 46th St., NYC. Tickets and info:

Christians might also like to know:
--Sexual situations
--Sexual activity

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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