Motown

Ain’t no place like Motown, Hitsville U.S.A.

The national touring company sings and dances the tale of Motown's rise and conquering of the charts from Berry Gordy's perspective

The beat of the Motor City, the sound of young America, the soundtrack to a generation, hit the stage Tuesday evening at the Keller Auditorium with Broadway’s Motown: The Musical.

Performed by the national touring company and in town through Sunday as part of the Broadway in Portland series, Motown is a jukebox serenade to the hits and personalities that have had a grip on our imagination for decades: the original singles, clothing, dance steps and sweet harmonies are not just a songbook, but a reflection of our shared histories.

Jarran Muse as Marvin Gaye & cast in the national tour of “Motown The Musical.” Photo: Joan Marcus

Jarran Muse as Marvin Gaye & cast in the national tour of “Motown The Musical.” Photo: Joan Marcus

Motown released in its heyday 1,657 singles between 1962 and 1971, with another decade or so with more hits to come. The book for Motown: The Musical was written by the man who started it all, Berry Gordy. Keeping that in mind, all you music fans and historians, Motown: The Musical is his side of the story. But Gordy did put down a hefty chunk of change to start Hitsville U.S.A, had an innovative idea on how to promote black music, and was the one person who stayed through it all. He’s transparent and admits his flaws: he didn’t want Marvin Gaye to leave his sexy soul-singer image to record the protest album What’s Going On. Gordy fought off and on with Stevie Wonder about his contract and disagreed when Stevie left the studio to petition Congress for a national Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. He had a longtime affair with Diana Ross that ultimately put Motown in limbo financially and hurt the other artists. Gordy is willing to admit his misjudgments and is tasteful in his telling of the Motown story. In this show there’s no recognition of Temptations lead singer David Ruffin, high out of his mind, beating Tammi Terrell; and maybe a little more should’ve been devoted to the Supremes founder Florence Ballard’s fall from grace. The Funk Brothers are mentioned a few times, and James Jamerson, their tragic bass player hero, but the band’s lack of royalties in creating the Motor City sound is not addressed. As Gordy sees it, there’s the people behind the music, but the music is what is most important.

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