Dennis Edwards, former lead singer of the Temptations, died a few weeks ago but the spirit and soul of Motown was alive and well Sunday night in Savannah Center.
“Motown is eternal – it just goes on and on and on,” said Gary Kupper, pianist and musical director of “Forever Motown,” which played two sold out shows here. “When you combine the production, songwriting and singing of Motown, you have musical genius. Dennis Edwards was part of it.”
An explosively-talented youthful cast of seven singers, backed by a remarkably tight five-piece band did justice to the Motown legacy.
These singers – Cliff Dawson, Derrick L. Baker, Traci Robinson, Rachael Washington, Sybil Scoby, Kevin Williams and Hugh Smith –covered the Motown songbook from Smokey Robinson and the Miracles “Shop Around” to Diana Ross’ “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
There is a fine line between artistic imitation and musical integrity. Too often, tribute acts just try to imitate the originals. That’s fine, but rarely does a show come along that not only captures the original sound of a group but, more importantly, the essence of its musical spirit.
That’s what “Forever Motown” accomplished, and the cast was in an ebullient mood after it was over.
“It’s so special being in this show,” said Hugh Smith, who was hitting high notes and making sharp dance moves all night long. “My parents loved this music and they shared with me, and I’m proud to be a part of it.
“I didn’t grow up in the 1960s, but being in this show, I now understand the history of this music and what it meant to those times.”
The Temptations’ left their stamp on the ‘60s with songs like “My Girl,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” and “The Way You Do The Things You Do.” Smith, along with the other male singers ripped through those numbers with joyous abandon and turned in some flashy Tempts’ choreography.
Smith leaped high into the air at one point and did a split on stage. “Stop showing off,” one of the other guys said, after helping him up.
Rachael Washington also had a special feeling during
a Supremes’ medley that included, “Stop In the Name of Love,” “Come See About Me,” “Where Did Our Love Go” and “You Keep Me Hanging On.”
“I know Diana Ross is still alive, but I’ve got to tell you, when I sing those songs I feel her spirit, and the spirit of those times,” Washington said after the show. “This music is timeless.”
Traci Robinson – who offered a powerful take on Gladys Knight’s “If I Were Your Woman” — believes Motown’s legacy goes beyond record sales and popularity.
“Motown was a musical pivot point,” she said. “It changed everything.”
Sybil Scoby proved to be a dynamic force on stage, singing another Gladys Knight classic: “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” written by Marvin Gaye
Cliff Dawson had a couple of showstoppers covering two Lionel Richie numbers: “Three Times a Lady” and “Leaving on Sunday Morning.”
The whole cast romped on stage in a rollicking version of the Contours “Do You Love Me.” The women brought another oldie to life with the Marvelettes “Please Mr. Postman.”
A Four Tops medley was an early highlight and the guys were up to the task on such numbers as “I Can’t Help Myself” and “I’ll Be There.” Other tributes included Marvin Gaye’s “I’ll Be Doggone” and “How Sweet It Is,” and Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight” and “Signed Sealed Delivered.”
Ike and Tina Turner originally made “River Deep Mountain High,” but it was covered by the Four Tops and Supremes. The entire cast lit up the stage with that number.
The band was a major force in this production. It featured Kupper on piano; James “Cadillac” Carderelli on drums; Jim Lucas on bass, Lane Hopper, keyboards and Tommy Calton on guitar.
Costumes were designed by Tony Award winner Evie Ross and the famed Motown choreography came from American Dance Theater Director Terri Giordano.
The singers joined the band in a rousing finale on Diana Ross’ “Aint No Mountain High Enough,” and this satisfying trip through Motown’s history was complete.
Villager Linda Rogers was part of the Big Chill generation who remembers those songs when they came out.
“I grew up listening to the Temptations and Supremes,” said Rogers, who attended the show with her Village pals: Couie Fossen, Diane Root and Jean Gorman.
“I was never a Beatles fan; I preferred Motown,” Rogers said. “Motown music had so much soul and passion. I still relate to it.”
There was another attraction to the Motown sound.
“It’s was the kind of music that made you want to get up and dance,” Fossen added.
And it still does.