Theatre Review: Motown the Musical

Clifton Oliver as Berry Gordy & Cast MOTOWN THE MUSICAL First National Tour (C) Joan Marcus, 2014Motown: The Musical delivers exactly what one would expect, a great number of hits from the 60’s and 70’s that most of us grew up listening to and know intimately. The music is iconic, bound to bring back fond memories, and will leave you feeling good–even if the  is a bit thin.  

The musical is adapted from Berry Gordy’s 1994 autobiography so the story is about him as much as it is about Motown’s music. But, he gave us that music, one cannot go without the other. He had a dream and he saw it to fruition. Here, we see glimpses of that dream, but they are glimpses at best.

Gordy worked with so many great artists, and many of them make their way onto the stage, but none of their stories are really teased out. We see a bit of his relationship with Diana Ross, but it isn’t enough to reel you in, partially because you couldn’t feel the passion between actors Josh Tower and Allison Semmes (although both gave solid individual performances). Even at almost three hours, there isn’t enough in the script to become invested in any of the characters as they unfold on stage. Nothing is matured, although the musical takes you through 25 years of the business.

Jarran Muse was a stand-out Marvin Gaye commanding attention in all of his scenes. Here, one can’t help but think of the backstories of the individuals portrayed, if ever so briefly on stage. The older Jackson brothers and the jealousy, their father’s heavy hand (who is never shown or mentioned) Gaye’s tragic end, Diana’s many affairs and hits. Rick James made an extremely brief, but entertaining cameo as did Teena Marie. But Motown: The Musical aren’t their stories, so nothing is really played out.

The Motown Orchestra is phenomenal, never missing a hip-shaking beat. Motown: The Musical isn’t great theatre, but it is like a feel good, old school concert, and that’s worth the price of admission.


Motown: The Musical runs in Toronto until Nov. 1. For tickets please visit:

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