Playhouse Square’s ‘Motown The Musical’ rocks the house with nostalgia

Motown the Musical has returned once again to Playhouse Square in all of its glory. This jukebox musical features 58 hits made famous by the collection of superstars that worked at Berry Gordy’s Detroit (and later Los Angeles) hit factory.

It is wall to wall music by an accomplished ensemble of 28 members who match word for word and note for note the original renditions by such stars as Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Rick James, Mary Wells, Cindy Birdsong, Stevie Wonder and such high powered groups as The Jackson five, The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Marvelettes, The Vandellas and The Supremes just to name a few.

The story traces Barry Gordy from a young age when he was influenced by Joe Louis knocking out Max Schmeling in 1936 to be the very best. His ran a record store that featured jazz music and 3-D glasses and when that failed he began working at the local auto plant. While working at the Lincoln-Mercury plant in Detroit, Michigan he began writing music. He was able to convince Jackie Wilson to sing a couple of his songs “Reet Petite” and “Lonely Teardrops” and with this modest success he quite his day job and began writing full time. With an $800 loan from his family he started Tamla Records whose first discovery was Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. From this, Motown Records was later formed.

The show is a history lesson of not only Motown Records but also the social conditions and dangerous times during the Vietnam War Era and Civil Rights Movement. Whenever the competition was on the verge of overpowering Gordy he would manage to reinvent himself with a new sound. The show culminates with a performance of all of Gordy’s hit makers coming together on the 25 Anniversary of Motown celebration in Los Angeles singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

Three things are needed to make this show successful. First you need an ensemble cast capable of singing well known hits by a variety of individuals and groups. Second, you need spectacular costuming and stage settings that mimic the live shows of that era and lastly a great orchestra to propel the music. This show has all three.

Of special note is Chester Gregory as Berry Gordy whose amazing voice is extremely striking. He commands the stage. Allison Semmes looks and sounds the part of Diana Ross both during her Supremes days and her solo career. At one point she mingles with the crowd during her “Reach out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” getting a couple of audience members to join her in the song. David Kaverman as Smokey Robinson excels in his singing the hits. The real surprise of the show was Raymond Davis Jr. who plays Young Berry, Young Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson with all the moves and an unbelievable voice.

Although there is brief language and some mild adult scenes this is a family friendly show.

As the summer travels along, what better way to spend an August evening than listing to an entire collection of classic hits known by all. The costuming and sets will dazzle you and the feel good music will lift your spirits. This is one rockin’ show!

Motown The Musical will be onstage through Sunday, August 20, 2017 in the State Theatre at Playhouse Square. Tickets may be purchased by phone by calling (216) 241-6000, online at or by stopping by the Playhouse Square Ticket Office located in the outer lobby of the State Theatre.

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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.