By Elaine Cohen
Motown: The Musical captivated audiences, when it played from June 19-24 at the Place des Arts in Montreal. Presented by Work Light Productions, the book musical starred Kenneth Mosley as Berry Gordy, founder, of Motown, and Trenyce, as Diana Ross, Justin Reynolds as Smokey Robinson and Matt Manuel as Marvin Gaye.
Kai Calhoun and Chase Phillips, had their work cut out for them portraying Gordy, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson at different stages in the celebrities’ youth. Rob McCaffrey is too young to have tuned in to the Ed Sullivan television show Sunday night in the ‘50s, ‘60s or ‘70s. However, McCaffrey impersonated Sullivan perfectly. He was also cast as Harold Noveck and Shelly Berger and implied their Jewish identity through mannerisms and intonation.
Backstage McCaffrey said whether he is in the spotlight or simply perched on stage; he always remains alert and reacts to whatever is transpiring in the show. Trenyce shines as a star of Motown but she is just as gregarious and unpretentious off stage as on. She lives in California and would like to meet the star she portrays. Every show, she has to modify her voice to reflect Diana Ross’s. She projects well and doesn’t miss a beat.
The Tuesday night show was filled with Motown fans. They knew the lyrics of every tune and were delighted when Trenyce turned up in the audience waving a microphone. It didn’t take long until she handed the microphone over to fans from New York and Montreal. They each wowed the crowd with their renditions of “Reach out and Touch”. Soon after, Trenyce convinced the audience to chime in. The atmosphere radiated with warmth and Trenyce had everyone swaying and holding hands as they harmonized like a choir.
The Jackson Five sequence stole the show. The applause and cheers indicated the audience identified with the actual group performing in their prime, especially Michael.
Amid the glitz, glamour, drama, dance, and song, the story re-enacted Gordy’s struggle to overcome prejudice against Blacks and minorities in America. Gordy started off as a featherweight boxer but traded in his gloves to fight for future stars. A product of Detroit, he succeeded in launching the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and many others. He endured the turbulent ‘60s when President John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated. War, bombings, inner-city riots and segregation prevailed. The Civil Rights Act was enacted in 1964 but bigotry still exists. The KKK and White Supremacists continue to target Jews and Blacks.
It’s easy to get caught up with the action on stage but talent behind the scenes is vital. Lighting Designer Natasha Katz, Projection Designer Max Epstein, Keyboard Programmer Randy Cohen and others behind the scenes deserve a shout of praise.
Fans of Carole King will have an opportunity to book tickets for “Beautiful”, slated for February 2019 at Place des Arts. The musical portrays King’s rise to fame as a composer, songwriter, and performer. A Jewish New Yorker, she showed promise as a pianist at a young age.