On Stage: Motown: The Musical

“Motown: The Musical” has returned to St. Louis for a 5-day run guaranteed to get audiences dancing in the streets — or at least in the aisles of the Fox Theatre.

Based on Berry Gordy’s 1994 autobiography “To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, the Memories of Motown,” the musical rips through more than 60 tunes made famous by the Detroit-based record label while telling the story of its founder and several of its stars. The show premiered on Broadway in 2013.

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Gabriella Whiting (Florence Ballard), Allison Semmes (Diana Ross) and Tavia Rivee (Mary Wilson) in a scene from the First National Tour production of “Motown The Musical.”        Joan Marcus photo 

Chester Gregory stars as Berry Gordy, who at a young age was inspired to be the best he could be after watching a Joe Louis boxing match. After a few false starts, Gordy discovered that what he was best at was making records and nurturing talent. Among his earliest finds and closest friends are Smokey Robinson (David Kaverman) and Marvin Gaye (Jarran Muse).

Gordy launches his black artists onto the airwaves and the concert halls in the early 1960s, a time of racial segregation and unrest. The civil rights movement is a constant presence in the show, both in the characters’ lives and how it is reflected in their music.

Motown unleashes a wide variety of talent in its first 25 years — from Stevie Wonder to the Jackson Five to Rick James — but the artist who becomes the focal point of the story is Diana Ross (Allison Semmes). Her relationship with Gordy gives the show its romantic angle, as well as show his managerial skills in boosting her from fronting a girl group to solo success and a movie career.

Of course, success breeds many challenges. Gordy’s “family” of talent finds the grass is greener at other studios — especially when they’re offering so much more green. As his stars leave, the record company starts to falter. Even though all the old gang are coming home for Motown’s anniversary, Gordy isn’t sure if he wants to be there.

If you love the music of Motown, then you will love “Motown: The Musical.” A number of talented singers and dancers, along with an immensely talented band, belt out hit after hit, sometimes in truncated form but always with high energy and heart. The leads, especially Gregory, really deliver the goods.

In addition to its classic soundtrack, the show boasts colorful, elaborate costumes and a dazzling, multimedia sets. “Motown: The Musical” is a joy for the eyes and ears.

“Motown: The Musical” runs through March 26 at the Fox Theatre. http://www.fabulousfox.com/

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