By: Cassandra Harris Lockwood
Motown the musical came to town and did not disappoint. The cast and crew brought it, they brought it all and left it on the stage of the Stanley.
Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright, the book was written by Barry Gordy, which in many ways explains the intimacy in which the work is presented. The stars of the show were
The very talented cast brought all of the artistry, energy, and class the original performers introduced to America and the world during the 60’s. And the storyline delivered history markers through those tumultuous times punctuated by music by the major portion of the “Legendary Motown Catalog.”
The only disappointment was that there weren’t enough children and young people who looked like the performers in the audience to soak in all of the wonderfulness. It is important for young Black youth lodged in poverty and cultural limitations to see people who look like them, not only telling an important story but performing on such a high level.
The choreography was spot on, not only the choreography of the acts for the Temptations, Four Tops, and Supremes, of which there are countless videos and recordings to reference but, the dance of the people of the times. Authentic. This writer would know. The Jerk, the Dog, the Pony, Mashed Potato, The Twist, “The Watusi and The Hitchhike, were all dances we rocked back in the day. We saw pieces of them woven into the outstanding choreography by Warren Adams bringing a flashback to a time and place when we were young.
I hit my teens when Motown was bringing forth the vibrant songs, sounds, rhythms and rhymes that marked those turbulent and trans-formative times. These were times when Black folks and White folks did very little in the same place. Segregation, especially in the South was from the schoolyard to the graveyard and it was this music and other music of the times that was central to changing all of that.
And unlike too many contemporary productions, such as the Golden Globes, all of that great music was brought to you by, a live pit band. And though the audience was not introduced to the musicians, other than the ones mentioned in the playbill, there was some local talent providing the great tunes of the Motown era. Dana Jerrard on trombone and baritone and Joe Ferlo on guitar were among the local musicians.
The show dated itself with projected images of the times; from psychedelic paisleys emblazoned upon the sets to images of the Viet Nam War to portraits of our slain heroes from the past, J.F. Kennedy, Dr. M.L. King and Malcolm X.
The set design would be the weakest portion of the show, as the row house backdrop was neither of use nor of interest. There were, however, ongoing projections of headlines and other signs of the times calling the audience’s attention to the places and arenas of the Motown revues and what was going on in America.
One, in particular, referred to the Dick Clark caravan of Stars. Those of a certain age will recall that Dick Clark made regular stops to Utica. Clark worked at WKTV in the early 1950’s and starred in the iconic American Bandstand that ran from 1957 to 1987. Bandstand was the hottest teen and young adult television show in the country featuring the best pop talent, both Black and White along with a mixed selection of dancers.When the Motown road show was at its height Dick Clark brought many of these original iconic acts to Utica Memorial Auditorium.
I would know, I won a case of Dr. Pepper at one of those great Dick Clark Caravan of Stars.
Motown made special mention of Ed Sullivan and his determination to introduce young musical talent, such as the , to American and therefore international audiences. The appearance of this nationally beloved character played with humor by Doug Storm was warmly received by the audience.
The production numbers were engaging and flawlessly executed. All of them and there were many. The dancing as superb and as I stated, the choreography was spot on. It was a pleasure to see the Black dance genre translated into a Broadway presentation. While the music The choreography authenticated the Precise and in sync, the dancers delivered Broadway level excellence consistently.
Mention must be made of the most youthful members of the cast,Raymond Davis, Jr., who portrayed young Berry Gordy and C.J. Wright whose performance of a young Michael Jackson was as delightful and soulful as it was adorable.
Utica’s Stanley Theater and Broadway Utica continue to attract and deliver quality acts and shows generally available only to cities larger and better positioned than here in the middle of the state. As they do, we as a region will continue to benefit culturally, artistically and professionally. And we at the Utica Phoenix thank them profoundly.