The perfect ending to Hennepin Theatre Trust's 2016-17 Broadway season leaves us hankering for next year's lineup

Image courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust

By Kerry Roberson

“Money had never been the main thing for me. It was the legacy that’s important.” Berry Gordy said he wanted to leave a lasting legacy, and boy did he ever. Gordy, founder of Motown, not only started up the record label on his own in 1959 with just $800 and a dream, but he was also the scriptwriter of the Broadway hit “Motown the Musical,” which came through Hennepin Theatre Trust and the Orpheum last week. After all, who better to write the musical about one of America’s largest record labels than the man who opened and operated the business himself?

“Motown” follows Gordy and his rise to fame and fortune through his recording label. The entire show took the audience on a toe tapping, hand clapping journey down memory lane as the performers sang more than 50 of the world’s chart topping songs from Motown artists like Diana Ross and The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye. Who can resist singing along to the Jackson Five’s number one hit single, “ABC”? Not this Minneapolis audience. A mix of clever puns, historic references and searing vocal performances kept this audience on their toes throughout the entire show. By the end, you felt as though you were a founding member of Motown as the audience sang and laughed along with the performers.

Although the musical was meant to showcase the amazing talent Gordy had for finding new artists, the struggles surrounding the primarily African American business were not overlooked.

Somber songs like, “What’s Going On,” by Marvin Gaye were felt more than heard as they were put into the musical as a response to the widespread police brutality toward the African American community and the assassinations of President JFK and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. These songs helped shape America, and although the musical highlighted the tense relationships that Gordy and the artists sometimes had, it also showed how Motown was filled with big dreams.

The singers of that time needed space to perform, something that the musical played off of with good staging and excellent choreography. And when the stage wasn’t big enough for them, the performers broke down the fourth wall without breaking a sweat by inviting the audience to sing Diana Ross’ classic song, “Reach Out and Touch My Hand.” A small microphone given to one audience member soon became a microphone big enough for the entire audience as everyone felt compelled to sing along and spread the song’s message of compassion.

After the final song, the deafening applause and standing ovation on opening night were immediate. “Motown the Musical” may not be in Minneapolis anymore, but you can always count on Hennepin Theatre Trust to bring the best shows available to Minneapolis. The 2017-18 Broadway On Hennepin season includes “Disney's Aladdin,” “Waitress,” “Phantom of the Opera” and “The Jersey Boys,” but other shows are coming sooner, such as “Bring It!” or comedy duo Tim & Eric, both on July 26, as well as “Dancing with the Stars” July 30.

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