A taste of ‘Motown’ in Wichita

Curious about the national tour of “Motown,” which is in Wichita this week? Watch a preview here. (Courtesy of Theater League/MOTOWN The Musical)
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Curious about the national tour of “Motown,” which is in Wichita this week? Watch a preview here. (Courtesy of Theater League/MOTOWN The Musical)

Keeper of the Plans

Looking for things to do? Matt Riedl is your go-to guy for entertainment, art and culture news in Wichita.

Keeper of the Plans

Wichitans get the chance to sing along at lively ‘Motown’

December 06, 2017 03:41 PM

Midway through Tuesday’s performance of “Motown,” a Wichita audience got the chance to interact with its cast.

Not after the show, not before – midway through.

While singing Diana Ross’ 1970 classic “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” the actress playing Ross, Trenyce invited a couple of Wichitans to sing the chorus of the song while the band vamped the music.

That was merely the most obvious audience participation in this musical, which often invited audience members to sing along and clap – which they happily did.

“Motown,” playing at Century II through Thursday, is a delight – like a well-crafted dessert, it fills you up with sweet feelings, but doesn’t leave you feeling overstuffed at its conclusion.

As its title would suggest, “Motown” is a jukebox musical that tells the story of Berry Gordy and his record label’s meteoric rise to popularity in the 1960s and ‘70s. The show is jam-packed with material – the program lists 58 classic Motown songs featured in the show (two of which were originals written by Gordy and Michael Lovesmith for the musical).

The show’s plot is simple and breezy – it doesn’t carry much dramatic heft, but it makes up for it in singing and dancing.

The cast (nearly all African-American) sings these Motown numbers with aplomb, and some of them are dead ringers for the original artists.

Some particular highlights were the opening medley (including “I Can’t Help Myself,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “Baby I Need Your Loving,” “Dancing in the Street,” “My Girl,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and the aforementioned “Reach Out and Touch.”

My only qualm with the show has nothing to do with the performers – it’s with the musical itself.

I understand jukebox musicals are not expected to have intriguing plots as their strong suit (and let it be said that I thought this show generally had a good plot), but it introduces a tinge of drama late in the game and never truly resolves it.

As the musical moves into the late ‘70s, it details the pressures Gordy felt to sell his label, as large L.A. record companies threatened to swallow up the independent Motown Records.

It’s never stated in the musical if Gordy did indeed sell the label, though perhaps that’s appropriate, given the show’s focus on Motown’s heyday in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Maybe it’s all by design, as it left me curious enough to want to pick up a copy of Gordy’s autobiography, on which the show is based, to get more information.

All in all, “Motown” was an immensely fun night, hearkening back to a different era – before the internet and before large corporations dominated the popular music industry. It’s also an underdog tale in its own right.

It’s certainly worth the price of admission.

And who knows? Maybe you’ll get to sing with Trencye too.

Matt Riedl: 316-268-6660, @RiedlMatt

‘Motown: The Musical’

When: 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Thurs.

Where: Century II, 225 W. Douglas

What: National tour of “Motown: The Musical,” a jukebox musical featuring 68 classic Motown songs (and two new songs written just for the musical).

Admission: $50.50-$90.50