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The story and songs of Hitsville U.S.A. captivate Chicago

"Motown The Musical"
Oriental Theatre
Chicago, IL
May 8, 2014
Motown Motown

Story and red carpet/curtain call photos By Andy Argyrakis,
Publicity photos courtesy of Broadway In Chicago

Everyone knows the music of Motown, but outside of a few passing tidbits here and there, most people probably aren't aware of the complete story (or at least founder Berry Gordy's side of it). Speaking of that legendary label founder, the 84-year-old entrepreneur and his lifelong collaborator/fellow superstar Smokey Robinson were in attendance as the national tour launch of "Motown The Musical" gave fans from multiple generations more than 50 songs, alongside several behind the scenes scoops.

Though the show actually begins and ends at the historic Motown 25 concert in 1983, the flashbacks in between fill in several of the most pertinent blanks, including how Gordy (played by the astounding Clifton Oliver) got the record label off the ground in 1957, forged his friendship and artistic partnership with Smokey Robinson, discovered Diana Ross & The Supremes as mere teens and even signed a tween-aged Stevie Wonder. Besides showing snippets of each history-making discovery (alongside other icons like Marvin Gaye, The Temptations and The Four Tops), the extraordinary cast waxes nostalgia by bringing classics like "Dancing In The Street," "Please Mr. Postman," "My Girl," "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)" and "Do You Love Me" to life.

While "Motown The Musical" is unquestionably a sing-a-long from start to finish, it also spends much of its time outlining the social and political climate of the era, including the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. As the times change, so do the songwriting subjects with artists like Gaye and Wonder leading the charge (the former of whom causes friction with his boss, who eventually acquiesces for "Mercy Mercy Me" to be released as a single, and the rest is boundary-breaking history).

Of course, the bulk of the show revolves around Gordy's real life romantic relationship with Ross, which given the fact that they worked together from The Supremes to her solo singing and acting careers, certainly complicates matters in more ways than one. Nonetheless, the drama plays the perfect foil for favorites like "Where Did Our Love Go" and "Stop! In The Name Of Love" through "Reach Out And Touch (Somebody's Hand)," all delivered in charm-school approved character by Chicago's very own Allison Semmes. (A youthful Leon Outlaw, Jr. also makes a command performance as a pre-"King of Pop" Michael Jackson during Ross' regal presentation of The Jackson 5 for the very first time).

Despite the label's ability to churn out hits in its latter era from the likes of Rick James, Lionel Richie and The Commodores, Gordy encounters heartache time and time again as many of his protégés went on to sign with larger labels waving more lucrative financial offers. Even so, pretty much everyone from the somewhat dysfunctional family finally comes back together for the Motown 25 grand finale, and during this particular performance, even found the actual Gordy giving a final proclamation in person. It was truly a surreal way to blur the lines between reliving the past and present day reality, but sure was a spectacular way to kick off what's bound to be one of the most popular and powerful musicals since "Jersey Boys" took Broadway by storm.

"Motown The Musical" continues through August 9 at the Oriental Theatre. For additional details, visit and

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Motown Motown

Motown Motown

Motown Motown

Motown Motown

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