This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

20Apr/13

MOTOWN THE MUSICAL

Hitsville, U.S.A. comes to Broadway in new jukebox musical (photo by Joan Marcus)

Hitsville, U.S.A. comes to Broadway in new jukebox musical (photo by Joan Marcus)

Lunt-Fontanne Theatre
205 West 46th St. between Seventh & Eighth Aves.
Through December 30, $49-$159
www.motownthemusical.com

Motown: The Musical opens with a battle of the bands between the Temptations and the Four Tops from the 1983 Motown 25 television special, setting the too-fast pace for this watered-down ride through the history of the legendary record label and its founder, Berry Gordy. With a book by Gordy based on his 1994 autobiography, To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown, the jukebox musical features snippets from nearly sixty songs from the Detroit label’s stellar catalog, whipping past in sped-up fury, re-created by a talented cast of performers who, of course, “ain’t nothing like the real thing” (a tune that, by the way, is not in the show). Brandon Victor Dixon is solid as Gordy, a dreamer who goes from odd job to odd job until deciding to start his own music company. He puts together an amazing group of singers, from Marvin Gaye (Bryan Terrell Clark), Smokey Robinson (Charl Brown), Stevie Wonder (Raymond Luke Jr. and Ryan Shaw), and Mary Wells (N’Kenge) to the Marvelettes, Gladys Knight (Marva Hicks) and the Pips, and Martha Reeves (Saycon Sengbloh) and the Vandellas. But this by-the-numbers story of Hitsville, U.S.A. focuses too much on the relationship between Gordy and Diana Ross (Valisia LeKae), feeling more like a public apology than a realistic depiction of their years together, both personally and professionally, particularly her solo debut in Las Vegas that involves forced audience interaction. Gordy also forces in set pieces related to the civil rights movement and such tragedies as the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King that are driven by clichés. Raymond Luke Jr. nearly steals the show as young Michael Jackson (played alternately by Jibreel Mawry), channeling the superstar on such Jackson 5 classics as “ABC,” “I Want You Back,” and “I’ll Be There,” but that also is a major problem with the production, which works so hard to impress the audience with its re-creations, resulting in truncated versions that come off more like a talent show, albeit a pretty darn good one. There are also a few new songs written by Gordy and Michael Lovesmith that are standard Broadway musical fare. Motown: The Musical is like an old record spinning on an even older turntable, going a little too fast, filled with skips and scratches as the needle follows the grooves, but in the end, the songs are so good that you just might not even care about all those hiccups.

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