America's Music Catalog: 'Motown the Musical' ready to groove in Chicago

2014-04-17T00:00:00Z 2014-04-17T17:39:05Z America's Music Catalog: 'Motown the Musical' ready to groove in ChicagoEloise Marie Valadez Eloise.Valadez@nwi.com, (219) 933-3365 nwitimes.com

The Motown sound stands on its own for not only its great creativity and mirthful messages but also for its ability to connect people of all races, backgrounds and ages.

It's a sound to be celebrated and Chicago audiences will now have the chance to rejoice in the rich Motown catalog on another level when "Motown the Musical" comes to the stage of the Windy City's Oriental Theatre next week.

The theatrical production will celebrate its first national tour debuting April 22 and running through July 13.

Kevin McCollum, the show's producer, said he looks forward to debuting the touring production in Chicago. McCollum, who attended high school in Deerfield, Ill., said he's long been a fan of the Motown sound, its rich musical culture and, of course, Berry Gordy, the man who started the iconic American record company in Detroit.

"Motown was my life," says producer McCollum. "I wanted to be Michael Jackson. I had all the moves down."

McCollum, Motown founder Gordy, and Doug Morris, chairman and CEO of Sony Music Entertainment are all producers of "Motown the Musical."

The production debuted in April 2013 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on Broadway. Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright, "Motown the Musical" traces Berry Gordy's journey of starting the record company, introducing the world to monumental musical artists, and also delves into the life and dreams of the man who brought joy to the world. It's based on Gordy's autobiography "To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, The Memories of Motown."

Award-winning producer McCollum's work on "Motown the Musical" began in 2009 after meeting with Gordy, who was ready to start talks about bringing his story and the story of the iconic record company to the stage.

Though the Motown soundtrack had always been special to him, McCollum was also struck by the cultural significance of Gordy's story and the dreams of the musical genius.

"The thing about this show is it's so joyous," McCollum says. "It's a musical journey of how art and music can change the world."

In "Motown the Musical," audience members will be treated to dozens of songs made famous by the likes of artists from The Supremes, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye to The Jacksons, Four Tops, Stevie Wonder and more.

For Chicago native Allison Semmes, it's an exciting opportunity to be starring in the first national tour and to portray Diana Ross.

"This is a dream come true," said Semmes. The Hyde Park native said she grew up surrounded by music. "I started in the Chicago Children's Choir. And my parents played a lot of Motown music at home."

About the attraction to the Motown sound, Semmes said: "It was the drum beat, bass line and, of course, the lyrics to these songs. It crosses all boundaries."

For Semmes, bringing Ross to life on stage can be a challenging feat but she said the creative team is great to work with in helping her achieve the Diana look, sound and character.

"They've given me the freedom to find her and gave me certain things and points to capture her essence," Semmes said.

When Semmes talked with Gordy one on one about Motown and the show, she said she learned so much.

"His memories are so sharp and clear. He remembers everything," she said, adding it was great listening to his stories. "Anytime you can get information from the source, it's wonderful, she said.

"The music of Motown wasn't just music. It really connected so many people and so many social barriers were shattered through this music," Semmes said.

Actor/singer Lynorris Evans will be performing as one of the iconic Jackson Five in the production.

"I feel honored to be a part of this show," said Evans, who portrays Marlon Jackson. "I grew up listening to all the Motown music," he said, adding the Jackson's catalog was a particular favorite. About the Jackson Five and the attraction to their music, Evans said: "It was their energy, hearing their voices and just seeing how much fun they were having on stage."

According to Evans, "Motown the Musical" audiences "will get a great vision of how this wonderful music was created and how Berry Gordy became the Berry Gordy we know today."

FYI: "Motown the Musical" will be performed April 22 to July 13 at Chicago's Oriental Theatre, 24 W Randolph St. Tickets range from $30 to $103. Call (800) 775.2000 or visit BroadwayInChicago.com.

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