Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
If anything was ever “right up their alley”, The New McCree Theatre’s current offering surely defines the phrase. Written by McCree Executive Director Charles Winfrey, The Motown Story traces the amazing success of the Motown label as it explains how dreams and visions really can come true.
Music rules the evening with an amazing array of talented singers, dancers and musicians on tap. It is all strung together as the story of Berry Gordy’s vision while he worked the assembly line blossoms with stars emerging at the end of the line instead of cars.
Told by the Griot (John R. Vincent, Sr.), the story unfolds as he tutors a protégé in the art of maintaining oral history. Flamboyant and even a touch overly dramatic, Vincent nevertheless delighted Friday night’s audience with his bombast and his mischievous twinkle.
Veteran McCree talent Cathye Johnson, who has relocated to Missouri but returned specifically to guest direct this production, directs The Motown Story. She has a unique ability to marshal music, dance, song and performers to produce a most enjoyable evening’s entertainment.
Since the story moves chronologically from 1958 through Motown’s move to California in 1975, the first act may surprise with some of the music there. Songs like “Shop Around”, “Please Mr. Postman” and “Beachwood – 45789” don’t seem as if they are that vintage, but in the talented hands of Fred Fife (Smokey Robinson), Precious Austin (Marvelette) and Whitney Frierson (Marvelette) they spring to memory with a bang!
Short scenes separate the musical moments where we catch glimpses into the moments that made up the Hitsville, USA history. Berry Gordy (Chris Williams) and Robert Bateman (John R. Vincent, Jr.) are seen sizing up and coaching the considerable talent that flooded the studios in those early heydays.
Act Two will enchant everyone with well worn tunes like “Midnight Train To Georgia” sung by Ayana Mitts as Gladys Knight, “Devil In A Blue Dress” handled smoothly by James Cobbin as Shorty Long, and “The Girl’s Alright With Me” sung expertly by Fife, Terence Grundy, Terrance Patton-Hill, and Lawrence “Chris” Young as the Temptations.
Another real highlight found Ulysses Bailey stepping out of the onstage band with his saxophone to perform as Junior Walker singing and playing “Shotgun”. Kudos definitely are in order for the onstage musical group led by Marlon Miller on keyboards and including Gil Benman on bass guitar and Jequan Neal on drums.
Maybe the most fun came at the end of the show with a terrific medley beginning with “Heard It Through The Grapevine” and ending with “Dancin’ in the Streets” and featuring the whole cast!
There were a lot of seats left in the house Friday, but everyone there enjoyed the show immensely! One little tike in the front row mimicked every musical move on the stage! This is wonderful music performed by talented singers, dancers and musicians. So grab the family and head out to see The Motown Story!
The Motown Story continues at The New McCree Theatre, 2040 W. Carpenter Road, Flint, MI 48505 (inside The New Standard Academy) through October 29. For information and tickets contact the box office at (810) 787-2200 or on line at http://www.thenewmccreetheatre.com/motown-story.html