Make us your home page
Instagram

Nonstop hit parade powers 'Motown: The Musical'

TAMPA — The Supremes are supreme. The Marvelettes deliver with Please Mr. Postman. The machine that is the record industry, and was most certainly Motown, opens full throttle as the careers of the Temptations and the Four Tops, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and dozens of other careers blossom and are soon set upon by record labels as cutthroat as the Daytona 500.

Motown: The Musical, running at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, is an extravaganza of nostalgic hits, some 50 of them over two and a half hours, wrapped loosely around the persona and career of producer Berry Gordy, who more or less built that engine. This show's objective is as straightforward as the title, its discovery-to-stardom pieces moving reliably along a conveyor belt.

That formula works.

Gordy's own rise, from high school dropout to featherweight boxer and from struggling songwriter to musical powerhouse, is nearly as remarkable as the "Motown Sound" he produced, which fused gospel with rhythm and blues. Chester Gregory as Gordy handles the musical's meatiest role with assurance, grinding out a conflicted portrait of a visionary and workaholic who drew excellence out of artists the way a hummingbird extracts nectar. This vision and its attendant profits consume him, to the exclusion of political engagement in the 1960s and a romance with Diana Ross, his biggest discovery.

Allison Semmes radiates as Ross, covering insecurities and ambition with that honeyed speaking voice and an exquisite vocal control. After defining career moves with the Supremes and immediate stardom as a solo performer, she ventures into the audience a couple of times to pull out brave customers for "duets."

This gimmick created a couple of genuinely moving moments, reflecting the same calculus that drives this musical. Gordy himself wrote the book based on his 1994 autobiography, To Be Loved. Script consultants David Goldsmith and Dick Scanlan weaved the plot around new discoveries, including Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and a young Michael Jackson (Raymond Davis Jr.). All delivered crisp lyrics, and many approached the stars they were playing. There were many such strong performances, but the politically engaged, passionately independent Marvin Gaye played by Jarran Muse (with an a cappella rendition of Mercy, Mercy Me) ranked among the best.

The story handles some aspects of its purported social engagement more completely than others. Undisguised racial animosities against black musicians taking over the mainstream charts run strong. A video montage references major figures and events including Vietnam, the moon landing and activist Angela Davis.

We know how the story plays out. Gordy and Motown Records can fend off competitors for a while but not indefinitely. There's never enough time to know most of the players well; the story's authors have chosen sketches and volume over character development.

But the music is wonderful, and that's really what Motown is about.

Contact Andrew Meacham at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

. If you go

Motown: The Musical

Runs through Sunday at the Straz Center, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. $28.50 and up. (813) 229-7827. Showtimes at strazcenter.org.

MORE SHOWS THIS WEEK: '5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche,' Brad Williams at the Improv

Nonstop hit parade powers 'Motown: The Musical' 08/09/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 9, 2017 5:46pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Gourmet food fight between top chefs raises $200,000

    News

    ST. PETERSBURG — The chefs came armed with their secret ingredients — pork rinds, truffle butter, pork bellies.

    (From left to right) Chefs Ryan Mitchell, Michael Buttacavoli, Ted Dorsey and Matthew Brennan compete during Tampa Bay Food Fight at The Coliseum in St. Petersburg on Tuesday. The event features chefs from the Tampa Bay area and benefitted Metropolitan Ministries. EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times
  2. Channing Tatum drops out of Weinstein Co. movie about sex abuse

    Movies

    LOS ANGELES — Channing Tatum is no longer developing a film with the Weinstein Co. that dealt with a boy dealing with the aftermath of sexual abuse.

    Channing Tatum at the premiere of "Comrade Detective" in Los Angeles. Tatum is no longer developing a film with the Weinstein Company about a boy dealing with the aftermath of sexual abuse. (Associated Press)
  3. Plan your weekend: Clearwater Jazz Holiday, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, MarineQuest, Florida Orchestra pops in the park, rodeo

    Events

    Plan your weekend

    Concerts

    Music weekend: Clearwater Jazz Holiday, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw and Bruno Mars all in one weekend? We have a playlist of a weekend coming up. Thursday brings Bruno's sold-out 24K Magic World Tour to Amalie Arena. The next day brings the country power …

    Bill Clark and Danelle Dasouqi admire the chalk art on the side walk during the final day of the three day Chalk Art Festival in Clearwater Beach. JIM REED/STAFF
  4. Ticket window: Harry Potter movie concert, Andrea Bocelli, Ed Sheeran, Iliza Shlesinger, Alan Parsons Project on sale this week

    Music & Concerts

    Tickets for the following events go on sale this week:

    British singer Ed Sheeran performs during the Italian State RAI TV program "Che Tempo che Fa", in Milan, Italy on March 12, 2017, 
AP Photo/Antonio Calanni
  5. 13 things to do in Tampa Bay on Oct. 19

    Events

    Bruno Mars: Get your Uptown Funk on at the Grammy-winning pop star's 24K Magic World Tour. 8 p.m., Amalie Arena, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa. $41.25-$131.25. (813) 301-2500.

    LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 25:  Bruno Mars performs onstage at 2017 BET Awards at Microsoft Theater on June 25, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for BET)