Get ready to move as Westcoast Black Theatre presents The Motown ’60s Revue.
By Kay Kipling
The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe had some success last season with a series of musical revues performed at Art Center Sarasota. Judging from the size of the crowd and their response to the first show of its 10th anniversary season, The Motown ’60s Revue, the night that I attended, they should have more success this year.
More was also the word to apply to the cast of this show—11 in all, larger than last season’s casts. It seems as if it takes more performers to really do justice to all the Motown hits you’ll hear in this approximately two-hour-long (with intermission) evening.
The structure of the show is loose. The first act is supposed to take place in a Detroit neighborhood in the 1960s, and there is a little dialogue at the outset about such topics as Berry Gordy’s record label and a visit from Dr. Martin Luther King. There’s also a setup for some songs about love with a young girl (Naarai Jacobs) who’s looking to find it and receiving advice from more experienced friends and neighbors.
But that’s all just an excuse to get the party started, as the cast (energetically backed by music director Jay Dodge II and keyboardist Ozanda Waldalph Gray Jr.) start rocking with numbers from all the groups those of us of a certain age recall growing up with: The Temptations, the Marvelettes, the Four Tops, the Supremes, the Isley Brothers, etc. The second act of the show purports to be an outdoor concert, with WBTT artistic director Nate Jacobs a natural in the role of a highly promotional emcee, and here the performers are dressed with a more uptown flair as they are introduced as the aforementioned acts themselves.
It’s impossible to do anything with a show like this beyond mention some of its highlights, so here goes with a few: the late Act I renditions of Can’t Help Myself by Charles Manning, The Way You Do the Things You Do by Jeff Atkins and Up Tight by Atkins and Chris Eisenberg (more on him in a minute); and Act II’s It’s the Same Old Song, Stop! In the Name of Love, Ball of Confusion (led by Manning and Leon Pitts II), Ain’t That Peculiar and Pride and Joy (with Sheldon Rhoden doing a smokin’ Marvin Gaye) and Nate Jacobs on an upbeat For Once in My Life. Ayanna Goldwire scores on the more sultry numbers, and Nisi Weaver, Lynette White, Jnana Wilson and Naarai Jacobs all have their moments to shine in a show that’s well balanced as far as song tempo and mood.
As he did in a show last season, the very young Eisenberg delivers as the lead singer for the Jackson 5 hits. And while he may not resemble Michael Jackson much physically, it’s just as spookily impressive here as it was with Michael to see someone that age who can sing, move and engage us with such confidence and presence.
The Motown ’60s Revue continues through Feb. 7 at Art Center Sarasota; for tickets call 366-1505 or visit wbttroupe.org.