Entertainment » Music

Motown the Musical

by Steven Bergman
Contributor
Tuesday Jun 4, 2013
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From the opening horn riff of the "Battle of the Stars" mash-up that kicks off the new soundtrack to the Broadway production of "Motown the Musical," your feet are involuntarily tapping, and you can’t help but be immediately transported to the rhythm and blues world of Detroit in the 1960’s. This was Berry Gordy’s world, and he seized the musical vibes of R&B and soul to create a sound that not only represented the tastes of the black community during an era of prejudice, but under the guise of dancin’ beats and cross-cultural lyrics, was also able to turn Motown into an empire that would be enjoyed by teenagers of all races for generations (and still continues today).

Gordy himself has now spearheaded the creation of this bio-musical, which tells how his determination to become a success took him from a poor African-American songwriter with $800 to his name, to an icon in a music industry that was predominantly controlled by rich, white men, through a new sound that he would form anchored by his friend, Smokey Robinson, and the woman he loved, Diana Ross.

The soundtrack for "Motown the Musical" is an upbeat, body-moving reminiscence of a truly American-style of music. With Smokey and the Miracles ("You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me") and Diana Ross and the Supremes ("Where Did Our Love Go," "Stop! In The Name of Love," "Ain’t No Mountain High Enough"), along with Stevie Wonder ("Signed, Sealed, Delivered"), the Temptations ("My Girl"), Marvin Gaye ("What’s Going On?"), and the Jackson 5 ("I Want You Back," "ABC"), Gordy displayed his ability to reflect the pulse of a country going through Vietnam and segregation, yet was able to effectively present his views in a non-threatening sound that never offended the white audience he needed to become the musical impresario of Motown.

The recording has earned several Tony Award nominations, much deserved. Valisia LeKae is a vocal dead-ringer for diva Ross, and listening to Charl Brown’s Smokey Robinson convinces you of his fabulous impression of the superstar. Ethan Popp and Bryan Crook more than earn their nomination for the orchestrations and arrangements, turning up the horns when needed, and the soul when called for, recreating the musical palette that supported these artists during their storied careers.

"Motown the Musical (Original Broadway Cast Recording)"
Berry Gordy
CD and digital formats
Motown / Universal Music Enterprises

Steven Bergman is a Composer / Playwright / Performing Arts Educator based outside of Boston, MA.

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