Review: Broadway Across Canada presents “Motown: The Musical”
There is no doubt that Motown Records is one of the most intriguing and successful pop culture machines of the past century. With dozens of superstars, mega hits, and fascinating industry stories that go along with the art itself, it would seem like the perfect fit for Broadway fodder. After watching Motown: The Musical, though, it’s evident that sometimes material is not meant for the Broadway stage.
Despite iconic characters like Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye being pop culture icons in their own right, the fit of Motown: The Musical just doesn’t seem to work. Perhaps its the strange, questionable pacing, or the fact that the script was penned by actual Motown Records founder Barry Gordy himself, but there’s just too much going on here for it to be a fun watch.
You can’t deny the mass appeal of these songs, and that’s the fun part about the show. Watching tracks like The Supremes’ “Baby Love” or Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” performed live is a thrill in its own regard, but once you count the number of songs in the entire production (over 60 for those keeping track), it becomes daunting and overwhelming. At certain intervals, you want the tunes to just stop and want Gordy’s script to give us a bit more narrative substance.
Motown: The Musical would be better off to structure itself like a straight up concert tribute to the label or a standard musical theatre production. Kudos for switching up the genre and trying something new, but it’s just a forced attempt at cramming way too much music into a short amount of time. The actual story suffers and feels a bit bloated when it’s competing with this much music.
If we want to focus on the positives (which there are certainly a few), let’s talk about the individual performances. Trenyce shines in the role of Diana Ross, exemplifying Ross’ star quality, her breathy vocal, and her knack for making the whole room turn to her attention. The ensemble cast in whole do a great job with the busy script, turning out song after song without a hitch, and constantly shaping the face of Motown with each new era that saw the label reinventing itself.
Ultimately, Motown: The Musical feels a bit off the mark, but you must pay it some props for its ambitious nature, its quantity of music, and its exhilarating performances. Just like the label itself did decades ago, the show gets major points for being a game changer in terms of colouring outside the lines.
Broadway Across Canada‘s presentation of Motown: The Musical runs February 6 – 11, 2018 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Performances run Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8pm, Sunday evening 7:30pm with 2pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday.
To purchase tickets, visit Ticketmaster.ca or call 1-855-985-5000. Group orders of 10 or more may be placed by calling 1-800-889-8457. Ticket prices start at $30.50.
Main image: Jasmine Maslanova-Brown (Florence Ballard), Trenyce (Diana Ross) & Quiana Holmes (Mary Wilson) in Motown: The Musical. © Joan Marcus, 2017.