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Theater Musical

Vivid Seats Live Year in Review: Motown the Musical at Oriental Theatre

December 10, 2014 by Alyssa

2014 in Review

As part of our end-of-the-year blog series, Live Year in Review, Vivid Seats staffers will be looking back on some of the best live events attended in 2014. In this installment, Alyssa reviews Motown the Musical from its first tour stop in Chicago this past April.

I’ve been a huge fan of Motown music my whole life. Diana Ross, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye—you name the song, I know all the words. Like anyone with a good ear, I love the music that came out of this scrappy Detroit record label, so you can imagine my excitement when it was announced that Broadway fan-favorite Motown the Musical was going on the road in 2014, starting in my hometown of Chicago.

As a Mother’s Day present—and to thank my mom for first introducing me to the music—I bought us Motown the Musical tickets for one of the production’s early performances at the Oriental Theatre in April. We’d been looking forward to the show for months, and there was a definite feeling of excitement in the theater as we waited for the show to begin.

As a general rule, I love biographies and origin stories, so Motown the Musical was ideal for me. Penned by Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr., the show takes an autobiographical approach, following Gordy from his roots—the second-youngest of eight children in a working-class Detroit family—to his perch atop the independent music scene in the late 20th century.

The show opens in 1983, just hours before the taping of the legendary Motown 25 TV special, but quickly turns into one long flashback telling the story of the fledgling record label’s rise to worldwide fame. Over the course of the show, the cast sings more than 65 songs from iconic artists like The Temptations, Mary Wells, and even later staples like Rick James. It’s amazing to sit through this show and remember how many influential songs the homegrown record company produced.

Our first introductions to characters like Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, and Marvin Gaye are especially lovely moments in Motown the Musical. Watching the cultural icons we now know so well transform from fresh-faced teen singers to pop superstars is a huge part of the charm of the musical—and of Motown itself. Allison Semmes was a convincing Diana Ross, down to her signature sweet smile on stage, and Jesse Nager’s Smokey Robinson served as nice comic relief to offset the musical’s second main plot: the love affair between Ross and Gordy.

The thing I loved most about the show (aside from the music) was how little it felt like a standard theater-going experience. All the songs are so ingrained in pop culture that it’s nearly impossible not to feel connected to the music and to the stories behind the beloved songs. The audience at my show was incredibly lively, and it was refreshing to watch the crowd get so excited about every song in each medley. We were encouraged to clap and sing along to the songs, and there were few that didn’t participate.

While the dialogue may have been a bit cheesy at times, overall the thing that stuck with me was the vibrant energy of the show, and you could tell the cast had a blast at each performance. I had so much fun at the April show that I even made my roommate go back to see it with me a few months later, and the performances definitely held up during a second viewing.

Motown the Musical’s Broadway production has set a closing date of Jan. 18, 2015, but the musical will remain on tour through at least fall 2015. Experience the magical story of this American institution with your own set of Motown the Musical tickets.

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