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April 13, 2024

Where Every Family Matters

Review: Motown the Musical

Motown's magical music makes for a memorable theatrical outing with your family. (pictured: Jarran Muse as Marvin Gaye)

Motown the Musical (Feb. 16 – 21; Ages 8 & older)
TPAC’s Jackson Hall
505 Deaderick St., Nashville
615-782-4040 •
Show times: Tue – Thu 7:30 p.m., Fri 8 p.m., Sat 2 & 8 p.m., Sun 1 & 6:30 p.m.
Tickets: $39 – $80

You’ll want to make your way to TPAC’s Jackson Hall this week for a hand-clappin’, toe-tappin’, memorable night of beloved music you’ll experience at Motown the Musical. The jukebox musical is written by Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records, based on his 1994 autobiography, To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown.

Motown the Musical initially ran on Broadway from April 2013 – January 2015, garnering four Tony Award nominations; the show returns to Broadway this July for an 18-week run at the Nederlander Theatre.  The show recounts Gordy’s founding and leadership of the Motown record label while giving the audience a peek into the personal and professional relationships he had with a few of the leading acts, namely Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye. Its his relationship with Ross that the musical mostly retells, and it certainly relies on the audience’s prior knowledge of other facts surrounding Gordy’s life (e.g., Jermaine Jackson being married to Gordy’s daughter, Hazel) and Motown in general. While Motown the Musical doesn’t delve as deep as it could into Gordy’s fascinating career as businessman and music industry pioneer, it does present an incredibly entertaining theatrical experience.

The first act kicks off in 1983 during the television special marking Motown’s 25th anniversary. From there, the story transports the audience back to 1938 when Gordy was a child who dreamed of making a difference, then quickly the show progresses into Gordy’s young adulthood and the birth of his legendary music label that was renowned for bringing black and white audiences together through music.

You’ll get to hear 59 tunes, most of them shortened versions. While the standout numbers are performed as concert or other live appearance segments in the show, others are placed throughout — sometimes awkwardly — as book numbers. It often feels that Gordy simply crammed the large number of hit songs into the show in an effort to not leave anything out. Still, the songs are a blast to relive, including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Dancing in the Street,” “Stop in the Name of Love,” “Please, Mr. Postman,” “Reach Out and Touch,” “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You,” “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” and more.

The majority of the show’s lead actors give amazing performances, including Chester Gregory as Gordy, Nicholas Ryan’s spot-on portrayal of Smokey Robinson and Rodney Earl Jackson Jr.’s impeccable delivery as Marvin Gaye. While Allison Semmes does a fine job as Diana Ross overall, her performance tends to ebb and flow from subdued to striking and back again.

While all the musical numbers provide enjoyable moments full of wonderful nostalgia, the stand-out crowd-pleaser is the Jackson 5 scene starring Lynorris Evans, Robert Hartwell, Rashad Naylor, Preston W. Dugger III and Leon Outlaw Jr. as they perform a phenomenal rendition of “I Want You Back”/”ABC.” Outlaw gives a carbon-copy performance of a young Michael Jackson — this talented youngster sounds and moves just like the original, and it’s magical to watch him on stage. His performance alone is well worth the price of admission.


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