The high-octane new national tour of Motown the Musical will roar into the Durham Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, Aug. 1st, just in time to remind a lot of Baby Boomers how many Golden Oldies of the soundtrack of their formative years bore the Motown Records label. The First National Tour of this Tony Award®-nominated 2013 Broadway and 2016 West End jukebox musical stopped at DPAC on Feb. 17-22, 2015, and electrified Triangle audiences with the heretofore largely unknown behind-the-scenes story of the meteoric rise of Detroit, MI-born African-American songwriter and record-company mogul Berry Gordy, Jr., who founded Motown Records on January 12, 1959 — and turned it into an entertainment empire that groomed Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, and Michael Jackson for superstardom.
“Motown music is classic and never gets old,” says Broadway and national tour veteran Allison Semmes, who played original Supreme Florence Ballard and understudied Diana Ross from Nov. 5, 2013 to March 9, 2014 in the show’s original Broadway production. She subsequently played Diana Ross in the Broadway show’s 2014-16 and 2017 national tours and in its July 2016 Broadway Revival.
Semmes says, “Every night, we have a new audience. We have a responsibility to tell that audience a story that they’ve never heard before.”
How does she keep her performance fresh? “I just continue to tell the truth,” says Semmes. “The truth never gets old.”
“The show begins and ends with Motown’s 25th anniversary celebration[, a 1983 TV special entitled Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever. It was a] show that that Berry Gordy almost failed to attend, because of his own disillusionment with the way his empire had begun disintegrating. Crammed with almost 60 numbers that not only are representative of Gordy’s Motown, but also provide the audience with only the briefest glimpse of some of its largest stars, the show barrels through the story of Gordy’s life from his childhood love for the brilliant boxer Joe Louis through the rise of Motown and all of the historical events that often underlined the music of the generation. Without a doubt, there are few people in the United States who do not recognize at least half a dozen of the hits created by Gordy’s ‘family.’…
“Though each of the superstars introduced in the fast-paced show could easily spend another 10 or 15 minutes on stage, the show focuses on only a few who were with Gordy from the very beginning: Smokey Robinson, one of Gordy’s first clients and, ultimately, his best and most loyal friend; Diana Ross (played perfectly by Allison Semmes, who appears to completely understand the connection that Ross and Gordy had, as well as Ross’s ability to mesmerize a crowd)[. Ross] loved Gordy as both a man and a manager; and Marvin Gaye (sexily personified by Jarran Muse), one of the Motown performers who became the voice of a generation and arguably the first Black male artist to both entertain and excite females of all races and ages.”
Allison Semmes and Jarran Muse reprise their roles as Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye — and Jesse Nager will likewise reprise his role as Smokey Robinson — in the new national tour of Motown the Musical. The show also stars Chester Gregory as Berry Gordy; and J.J. Batteast and Leon Outlaw, Jr. alternate in the triple role of Young Berry Gordy, Young Stevie Wonder, and Young Michael Jackson.
How does the current national tour differ from previous productions of the show? “We’ve added so many more LED panels, and taken away a lot of physical props,” says Allison Semmes. She adds, “… The show is a lot more vivid, and we have cleaner transitions….
“Overall,” Semmes says, “We have a new cast, and it has new energy…. [DPAC patrons] should expect a brighter, more vivid show. But it’s the same music. They won’t be missing any of the hits.”
Motown the Musical not only tells the origin story of some of the famous Motown groups that made Detroit “Hitsville U.S.A.,” but it also chronicles the evolution of Motown founder Berry Gordy “from featherweight boxer to the heavyweight music mogul,” according to DPAC. Motown the Musical made its Broadway debut on April 14, 2013 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, where it played 738 performances before closing on Jan. 18, 2015.
The musical’s First National Tour — produced by Tony winner Kevin McCollum (Rent, In the Heights, Avenue Q), Sony Music Entertainment chairman and CEO Doug Morris, and Motown founder Berry Gordy himself and directed by Charles Randolph-Wright and choreographed by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams — opened on April 22, 2014 at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago, IL, and concluded on July 3, 2016 at the Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City, UT, after which the musical returned to the Great White Way for a brief Broadway revival on July 12-31, 2016 at the Nederlander Theatre. The new national tour kicked off on Jan. 11, 2017 at the Stanley Performing Arts Center in Utica, NY, and is currently scheduled to conclude on Aug. 27, 2017 at the Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, MO,
Besides the producers, director, and choreographers listed above, the new national tour’s creative team includes associate director Schele Williams, associate choreographer Brian Harlan Brooks, music director/conductor Darryl Archibald, scenic designer David Korins, associate scenic designer Rod Lemmond, lighting designer Natasha Katz, costume designer Emilio Sosa, hair-and-wig designer Charles G. Lapointe, makeup designer J. Jared Janas, sound designer Peter Hylenski, projection designer Daniel Brodie, script consultants David Goldsmith and Dick Scanlan, production stage manager Anna R. Kaltenbach, stage manager Ralph Stan Lee, and assistant stage manager Amber Johnson. Plus, the show features music supervision, orchestrations, and arrangements by Ethan Popp and co-orchestrator and additional arranger Bryan Crook, and dance arrangements by Zane Mark.
Chicago, IL native Allison Semmes earned a bachelor of music degree in classical voice from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and a master’s degree in music, with a concentration in musical theater, from NYU Steinhardt in New York City. On Broadway, she has understudied Nabulungi in The Book of Mormon, played Florence Ballard and understudied Diana Ross in the original Broadway production of Motown the Musical, and played Diana Ross in the show’s 2016 Broadway Revival.
Playing both Florence Ballard and Diana Ross “has made my Motown the Musical experience fuller,” says Allison Semmes. “Florence Ballard’s story is different from Diana Ross’ story. I loved playing both of them, but playing Diana Ross is The Dream.”
“What I love about this show,” Semmes says, “is the creators want us to capture the essence of the characters that we play, not do an impersonation…. Diana Ross has this joy when she’s onstage and connecting with the audience and becoming friends with them. I find that we have that similarity.”
Having prepped to play Diana Ross at what she calls “YouTube University,” Semmes says, “It’s nice to get a glimpse of her personality when she was younger…. I didn’t know about the relationship that she and Gordy had. That was a shock to me.”
Allison Semmes says, “[Triangle theatergoers] should expect amazing energy [from the current national tour of Motown the Musical. With the cast that we have now, the energy is just amazing…. We tell the story of how America has changed and how it hasn’t changed …. We see how the music united America…. People will leave the theater feeling really good inside.”
SECOND OPINION: Aug 2nd Durham, NC Herald-Sun review by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/entertainment/article164950967.html and July 26th preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/entertainment/article164032912.html; and July 26th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by David Klein: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/motown-the-musical/Event?oid=7115487.
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents MOTOWN THE MUSICAL at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 1-3, 8 p.m. Aug. 4, 2 and 8 p.m. Aug. 5, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Aug. 6 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $30 and up. Click here for DPAC Special Offers.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/1984012.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.
THE TOUR: http://www.motownthemusical.com/, https://www.ibdb.com/tour-production/motown-the-musical-512973, https://www.facebook.com/MotownMusical, https://twitter.com/motownmusical, and http://www.youtube.com/motownthemusical.
TOUR CAST/CREATIVE TEAM: http://www.motownthemusical.com/creative.php.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5th, performance.
Motown the Musical (2013 Broadway and 2016 West End musical): http://www.motownthemusical.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/motown-the-musical-493341 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.facebook.com/MotownMusical (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/motownmusical (Twitter page), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motown:_The_Musical (Wikipedia), and http://www.youtube.com/motownthemusical (YouTube).
Berry Gordy, Jr. (Detroit, MI-born composer, lyricist, and librettist and founder of Motown Records): http://www.rockhall.com/inductees/berry_gordy_jr/ (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bio), http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=84065 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0330700/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berry_Gordy (Wikipedia).
Allison Semmes (Chicago, IL-born actress playing Diana Ross): http://www.allisonsemmes.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/allison-semmes-492640 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm6749236/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/ladysemmes/ (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/AllisonSemmes (Twitter page).
Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail email@example.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)