‘Motown the Musical’ Comes to Chicago

Music icons Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson take the stage at "Motown the Musical" in Chicago.

The red carpet was out at Thursday’s performance of Motown the Musical in Chicago. The jam-packed Broadway musical, which opened in the Windy City last month, left audience members at the Oriental Theater on their feet. Commencing with the Four Tops and Temptations rehearsing for the 25th Anniversary of Motown, the musical then took a retrospective look at the life of the label’s founder, Berry Gordy Jr., and consequently, recapped the history of one of the greatest record companies in recent times.

Crowd participation was intentionally and inadvertently present throughout the performance. The introduction of Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye’s characters was met with cheers and applause. The intermittent calls of support continued as acts from The Supremes to the Jackson 5 took the stage. Attendees were able to temporarily transport themselves back to Motown’s heyday even further when Diana Ross’ character called a couple people up to sing “Reach Out and Touch” with her. The entire theater then complied when she asked everyone to join hands, lift their arms and collectively sing the song that launched her solo career.

Interspersed throughout the musical were pieces of history and examples of the complex race relations of the time. Segregated performances, playing music by Black artists on White pop stations and diversifying Motown’s sales team to include African-Americans who were charged with selling records to White radio owners are examples of the many barriers the label was able to break.

The musical also addressed the numerous challenges that Gordy encountered along the Motown journey. Beginning with getting the money to start the record label, managing a relationship with Diana Ross and ultimately feeling forced to sell the company as larger record companies offered his artists more lucrative contracts.

When the real Barry Gordy Jr. and Smokey Robinson took the stage at the conclusion of the last act, the theater erupted with applause. In addition to honoring them for their legacy, everyone could now also express their respect for not only the work, but also the love that went into making such an indelible impact on music, history and the lives of millions.

Check out images from Thursday’s performance below:

(Photo Credit: Geoffrey Black)


Legendary singer Smokey Robinson arrives at Chicago’s Oriental Theater.

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