“Motown the Musical” has changed a lot since the hit Broadway show last played Minneapolis’ Orpheum Theatre in Dec. 2014. While actor Allison Semmes (pictured above left in this photo by Joan Marcus) is still a knockout as superstar Diana Ross, she has a new co-star. Lyrical perfomer Chester Gregory plays the role of record label founder Berry Gordy, and he, too, shines in the production that opened Tuesday.
This refreshed version of the jukebox musical, staged with propulsive energy and verve by Charles Randolph-Wright, has been tightened and streamlined. Where “Motown” used to have about 70 songs, the number is now in the 50-something range, although the show does not feel long. And the projections have been updated.
The result is a soulful, gorgeous distillation of the songs and harmonies that provided much of the soundtrack to the 1960s and 70s even as it tells of Gordy’s rise and his budding romance with Ross. (Coincidentally, Ross was headlining at Northrop Auditorium across town Tuesday.)
Of course, people go to “Motown” more for the music than the story, which is told in rather broad terms. The songs, including “My Girl,” “My Guy” and "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)," are delivered with great energy and deep understanding by the versatile ensemble, whose members played Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Contours, and a host of other acts.
In addition to Semmes, who soared on "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and Gregory ("To Be Loved"), other “Motown” standout performers include Raymond Davis, Jr., a precocious, talented adolescent who captured the youthful joy and star power of a young Michael Jackson.