Many of the greatest pop hits of our collective lifetimes just keep on coming in “Motown: The Musical,” and there simply is no resisting the powerfully familiar music that rocks the rafters of the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, where the new Broadway show opened on Sunday.
A multimillion dollar jukebox musical crammed with golden oldies, “Motown” is producer Berry Gordy’s account of his remarkable life and times in the music industry, circa 1950s-70s. The legendary pop stars he discovered and cultivated – and eventually lost, in some cases – are too numerous to cite here, but most of them are depicted in Gordy’s rudimentary though relatively painless bio-script.
The music mogul’s slant on his romance with Diana Ross seems rather sweet, actually.
Don’t expect a “Jersey Boys” level of dramatic sophistication. Still, at the very least – and it generally is – Gordy’s sketchy script presents a straightforward framework that does not get in the way (usually) of more than 60 much-loved songs that are performed like blazes by a dynamic 30-member company of singers and dancers.
Few of the numbers are utilized in a dramatic context and most often are enjoyably staged as the artists singing in concerts or in the recording studio. The musical arrangements by Ethan Popp and the performances guided by director Charles Randolph-Wright closely replicate the originals.
So “Motown” offers a deep immersion in pleasurable nostalgia for Baby Boomers who grew up to these songs while the younger generations are likely to appreciate many of the pop classics that alphabetically range from “ABC” to “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me.”
Certainly the performers are tip-top. Valisia LeKae’s gleaming Diana Ross elegantly evolves from an eager schoolgirl into a diva. Charl Brown’s soft-voiced Smokey Robinson, Bryan Terrell Clark’s moody Marvin Gaye and Brandon Victor Dixon’s likeable Berry Gordy are personable incarnations.
A youngster alternating with Jibreel Mawry in three juvenile portrayals, Raymond Luke, Jr. is sensational in the show’s second act as the budding Michael Jackson.
Smoothly representing various members of The Temptations, The Commodores, The Marvelettes and The Vandellas, among others, as well as popping up as various icons like Gladys Knight, Jackie Wilson, Mary Wells and Stevie Wonder, members of the ensemble sharply portray as many as four and five individuals apiece. Thanks in part to the flashy period costumes designed by Esosa and the energetic vintage choreography created by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams, these exuberant impersonations are highly satisfying.
Randolph-Wright’s staging keeps the action moving quickly while designer David Korins’ stylized settings cleverly frame the scenes in various ways. The lighting designed by Natasha Katz contributes energy and beautiful colors to the proceedings, which warmly celebrate a towering song stack of musical memories.
“Motown: The Musical” continues at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, Broadway at 46th St., New York. Call (877) 250-2929 or visit www.motownthemusical.com.