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Theater Review: “Motown: The Musical”

Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 pm and 8 pm; Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm.
Photo credit:
San Diego Theater

Detroit and the Motown pop sound it spawned take center stage in “Motown: The Musical,” playing a return engagement through Sunday at San Diego Civic Theatre.

That well-known sound was made famous by Berry Gordy – a singer and songwriter in his own right – who started his own record label when the racism of the time kept established record publishers and radio stations from giving his artists a chance.

One DJ put it this way: “What makes you think white people will buy your music?”

So Gordy started Motown Records and signed groups including the Temptations, Four Tops and the Jackson 5, and Diana Ross and the Supremes, along with individuals like Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson. Nobody gave him a chance.

But Gordy – who knew good commercial music when he heard it – succeeded, and Motown Records put out some of the biggest hits of all time. 

Based on Gordy’s autobiography, “Motown: The Musical” lists about 60 songs in the program. This means that few songs get full treatment, and the show almost seems more of an extensive medley with historical facts tossed in.

But the music is toe-tappingly infectious, the cast terrific and the energetic choreography (even some kick-splits) brings a smile. The audience even gets to sing along at one point.

Kenneth Mosley is utterly believable as promoter/songwriter/singer Berry Gordy, the man who both made music history and brought the races together as no one else could.

Trenyce has the pipes, the look and sound for Diana Ross. She’s a real joy to behold.

Justin Reynolds as Smokey Robinson and Matt Manuel as Marvin Gaye are excellent as well.

Thirteen-year-old Kai Calhoun is a find as the young Berry Gordy, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson. This role is double cast, so your mileage may vary, but Calhoun is terrific.

This is a show for people with a short attention span. The cast is in constant motion, there are lots of moving geometric backdrops (by Daniel Brodie) and spiffy footwork everywhere on display. 

Sets by David Korins and flashy costumes by Emilio Sosa add to the look and feel of the show. Natasha Katz does the especially effective lighting.

If you’re feeling like a little Motown, hurry on down to Civic Theatre. “Motown: The Musical” ends on Sunday.

The details

“Motown: The Musical” plays through December 31, 2017 at San Diego Civic Theatre, , 3rd and B Streets, downtown.

Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 pm and 8 pm; Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm.

Tickets: (619) 570-1100 or broadwaysd.com