It’s the Christmas Season! I’m in New York City, Times Square. It’s cold and overcast. People are everywhere. The Disney store is packed out. Horns blowing! There’s an excitement in the air! It begins to rain.
There’s a hole in my schedule today. Last night, was the black tie gala I attended with my niece, a student at NYU. Tomorrow is lunch with my publisher and dinner with business associates. Today, in a city of eight and a half million people, excluding tourists and visitors, I’m looking for something to do. The hotel concierge comes to my rescue.
The Lunt–Fontanne Theatre on West 46th is a block and a half from the hotel.
Being in “the business” for thirty years, I seldom get excited about a performance, whether mine or someone else’s. I’m too critical. Seeing things the general audience’s eyes don’t see sometimes makes a theatre performance or film a critical exercise rather than pure enjoyment.
The moment the hidden orchestra hit the familiar opening notes on the guitars and the smooth as gravy voice of David Ruffin slid into, “I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day….” Motown The Musical was on!
When it’s cold outside I’ve got the month of May. Well, I guess you say, what can make me feel this way? My Girl, My Girl! My Girl.
The audience exhaled! We allowed ourselves to be transported back to innocence lost. I laughed. I cried. I sang. I held hands with the man next to me as instructed by “Diana Ross.” I danced. Yes, I was excited.
The storyline traveled back over the twenty-five year history of Motown. From the founder, Berry Gordy’s reluctance to attend the twenty-five year reunion, back to quitting his job 25 years earlier to establish a music empire that created “Race Music.” The Music of Motown changed minds, touched lives, and took the world by storm. Diana Ross and the Supremes, Smoky Robinson and The Miracles, Little Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, The Jackson Five, The Commodores, Martha Reeves and The Vandellas, Marvin Gaye, Rick James, Edwin Starr all came alive in the context of their music and its relationship to our lives.
The innocence of songs like ABC, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, I Heard it Through the Grapevine, I Hear a Symphony, Please Mr. Postman, and My Girl, gave way to more serious music like What’s Going On, Ball Of Confusion, War, and Super Freak.
The accompanying dancers and singers dramatized the era’s music and for many of us, those life moments permanently etched in our heads.
Watching the performers, I teared up when President John Kennedy was killed, that memory, taking me back to the sixth grade. There were the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the Vietnam War, first loves, the decadence of the 1980s and more. It was the music many of us in the theatre grew up on and those younger had heard before in movies, commercials, or on someone else’s iPod.
At one point, “Diana Ross,” asked us all to join hands over our heads and sway back and forth to the music. I grabbed the man’s hand next to me. He reciprocated, grabbing my hand and then his wife’s. We swayed back and forth. The Marvin Gaye character sang, What’s Going On. We all knew the words and joined in.
Mother, Mother, there’s too many of you crying. Brother, Brother, Brother, there’s far too many of you dying. We know we got to find a way to bring some loving here today.
What a show!
I left the theatre on a cloud. Walking back toward my hotel, it began to snow. Big, flakey snowflakes, softly floating to the ground. I smiled and thought, “Christmas in New York.” The promo material for Motown the Musical says, “An experience you’ll never forget.” I won’t anytime soon.