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I am so very excited that theatre season has returned. I cannot even begin to explain to you how anxious I get waiting to hear about the shows that will be in production for the season — and then to have to wait months before season openers begin? It’s intense! August and September might mean the end of summer and the return to school (and as a result, the return of homework fights, extracurricular activity overload, lunch packing — the bane of my existence — and all the rest of the back to school battle) but it also means return to Cincinnati theatre. I look at it as an almost even trade.

On Tuesday night, I was treated to a performance of MOTOWN THE MUSICAL at the Aronoff Center. Broadway in Cincinnati’s season lineup looks amazing, and this was the perfect way to kick off a fantastic year. I’ve heard it said at least a dozen times now, and I agree — this wasn’t a show, this was a party!

I wasn’t sure what I was getting into, knowing little about the show before I arrived. All I knew was that I thoroughly enjoy the music of Motown. What you end up experiencing is a walk through time – specifically, the life of Berry Gordy, founder of Motown Records. Here’s a little about the show:

Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright, MOTOWN THE MUSICAL is the true American dream story of Motown TourMotown founder Berry Gordy’s journey from featherweight boxer to the heavyweight music mogul who launched the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and so many more.

Featuring more than 40 classic hits such as “My Girl” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” MOTOWN THE MUSICAL tells the story behind the hits as Diana, Smokey, Berry and the whole Motown family fight against the odds to create the soundtrack of change in America. Motown shattered barriers, shaped our lives and made us all move to the same beat.

I found the story fascinating from the beginning. This kid, hearing Joe Lewis win “a big boxing match” (I am decidedly NOT a sports fanatic) decides he wants to be the kind of person that makes people happy, the way that Joe Lewis made everyone happy when he won. So – he does. I mean, the kid made a goal for himself, and the man saw it through to the end. We can thank Mr. Gordy for such icons as Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson Five — THE JACKSON FIVE. Where would my teen years have been without Michael Jackson?!

Motown the Musical

The acting was wonderful, and I had a couple of faves among the cast – the lovely lady playing Ms. Diana Ross, Ashley Tamar Davis, the gentleman playing Marvin Gaye, Jarran Muse, and the kid with the incredible moves and fabulous set of pipes who played young Michael Jackson, young Berry Gordy, and young Stevie Wonder — Leon Outlaw, Jr. Man, that kid has talent for days! All three of this marvelous performers stood out to me because I honestly felt like I was in the audience watching the actual Diana, Marvin, and Michael on stage. They sounded and moved just like their iconic counterparts, and I loved watching them perform. Ms. Davis was outstanding as Diana – even moving into the crowd to interact with the audience and always maintaining her Diana Ross facade. Mr. Muse was amazing as Marvin Gaye and I confess, I would have loved to hear more of him in the show.

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All of this being said, the entire cast was outstanding. There was much slapping, toe tapping, hooting, hollering, and carrying-on happening in the audience. It was clear that everyone was having a fabulous time. I find it truly strange to think that just a little more than half a century ago, the world was so segregated that they not only had a “colored” and a “white” side for concert venues, but there were also “white only” radio stations. It’s amazing to me that Mr. Gordy built Motown Records up from nothing, not only against the tide of fellow recording houses – but against a tide of racism as well. All the more impressive to me. And I must say, I’m thankful for his stubborn will to succeed. What a success story!

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I very highly suggest seeing MOTOWN THE MUSICAL while it is in town. Go for the music. Go for the story. Go for the amazing acting. Go for the FUN!

MOTOWN THE MUSICAL will play the Aronoff Center from September 8 – 20: Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30PM, Friday at 8:00PM, Saturday at 2:00PM and 8:00PM and Sunday at 1:00PM and 6:30PM. Tickets for MOTOWN THE MUSICAL start at $29. They are available at the Aronoff Center Box Office downtown at 650 Walnut Street, online at CincinnatiArts.org or by phone at 513.621.ARTS. For groups of 10 or more, contact the group sales department at 513.369.4363. Performance schedule, prices and cast are subject to change without notice. For more information, please visit www.BroadwayInCincinnati.com.

disclosure: I was invited to attend the opening night performance of MOTOWN THE MUSICAL in exchange for sharing my review and information about the show. All opinions are, however, 100% my own. It’s a wonderful show. Go see it!

All Photo Credit (c)  Joan Marcus.