Courtesy of Nick Kaizer
As the auditorium filled with excited guests ready for a night of song, dance and some history, the golden “Motown the Musical” “M” was projected on the gold framed screen on stage.
When the lights dimmed there was no hesitation, the “M” flashed red, green and blue as “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” boomed from the speakers. The screen lifted to show a twinkling stage of the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, it was the “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever” special. The Temptations and Four Tops were performing at a “Battle of the Bands,” and the audience was feeling the music and singing along.
The dramatic opening was just a small preview of the incredible choreography, music and special effects that was to come. The set seemed to be moving on it’s own with the use of moving screens really made the show stand out.
The scene changed to show Berry Gordy played by Kenneth Mosley in his home, he was having mixed feelings about the special. All these great performers that he started had all left him, and now they were back to celebrate. The flashback started.
A young Gordy was shown crowded around the radio listening to Detroit’s Joe Louis defeating Germany in a boxing match. After that moment, he was inspired to follow his dreams.
The show follows Gordy’s initial struggles to get this record label off the ground. Along with the iconic musicians he meets along the way, like the first meeting of his best friend Smokey Robinson played by Justin Reynolds. And Smokey introducing Gordy to The Supremes that included Diana Ross played by Trenyce and their ambitious attitude to make music.
The songs were one-after-the-other throughout the whole show, yet there was still enough dialogue to tell the story that captivated the audience. The dialogue was filled with one-liners such as Gordy and Smokey coming up with the name “Motown” rather than “Motor City Town” that left the audience cackling.
There were also many serious events that were portrayed such as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.
The show addressed race issues, the violence and hatred that were happening in America at the time. It gave the personal testimony through the characters that the younger audience did not experience in their lifetime. They created a bond through music that was groundbreaking for the time.
As time went by, the bright and colorful costumes matched with the era. Each scene being a different year and since the years weren’t blatantly shown, the outfits helped the audience follow.
As the story continued, the growth and success of the business was fun to watch, the more characters along with the legendary songs that come along with them. The performances started going around the United States and lead to Europe, as well.
The growth was not always good though, as other labels were slowly taking away Motown’s original singers and songwriters. Relationships were blooming and breaking and Gordy and Diana Ross’s relationship was solidifying while The Supremes were falling apart.
After Ross’s split from The Supremes, her solo act stole the show. Up until this point there was some audience interaction, but the performance of “Reach Out and Touch” was a major highlight. Starting with her dramatic white gown with the stage covered in fog, she then walked off the stage and had members of the audience sing along with her.
Once Ross’s solo career took off, Gordy was getting busier with running his business, their relationship was crumbling. After that, it was only so long before she was getting offers for more money, and one came along that she couldn’t refuse. The tragic heartbreak was inevitable.
Deeper than Gordy and Ross’s relationship, Motown was also suffering. They had to revamp to become relevant with the times. This lead to even more hits such as “Super Freak” and “Square Biz.” This gave them a second wind of hope, which was short lived.
The flashback eventually lead up to the “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever” special, with all of the famous performers there to honor Grady. As Ross made her entrance from the crowd, she hoped Grady would show, and sure enough, he appeared off-stage. As the special began to unfold, the sentimental video footage of the actual special was being shown on the backdrop.