Willis White in “The Music of Motown.” (MTH Theater)
MTH Theatre again goes on location for its current classy video production — to the atmospheric art gallery at the picturesque KC Crossroads Hotel.
The show, simply titled “The Music of Motown,” delivers the goods with a crack band and a lineup of strong singers. The whole thing was conceived by Ron Lackey, a musician, band leader and sometimes actor, who effortlessly exudes good will and generosity. It’s not an act. I interviewed Lackey a few years ago and I’ve seen him perform in shows at the Coterie and Spinning Tree Theatre. What you see is what you get — a multi-talented big man who loves to perform.
For this show, Lackey brought in his regular band — guitarist Ron Darrell Mayberry, saxophonist Nate McLendon and percussionist Bryan Alford — as well as a team of exemplary singers — Kenasha Cook, Linnaia McKenzie, Douglass Walker and Willis White. And, as we’ve come to expect, Tim Scott’s video production is slick and subtle, enhanced by intoxicating lighting that evokes a potent atmosphere with an expert balance between shadow and light.
The show kicks off with Willis White delivering a spirited version of “Get Ready,” which seamlessly transitions to Keshana Cook, who gives us a high-energy reading of “Dancin’ in the Streets.” Lackey, who performs on keyboards throughout, allows himself some memorable numbers, including “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and a vivid rendition of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.”
Linnaia McKenzie lights things up with “Heat Wave.” Douglass Walker scores with “I Can’t Help Myself,” among other numbers. Other highlights: Cook’s emotional readings of “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Baby Love” and “Where Did Our Love Go?” and Douglass Walker’s take on “Can’t Help Myself” and “My Girl.” McKenzie scores with an explosive mashup of a couple of Aretha Franklin classics — “Chain of Fools” and “Respect.” Willis deftly handles “Mercy Mercy Me,” one of the few (perhaps only) Motown environmental protest songs.
This is all an exercise in class and note-perfect execution, concluding with Lackey and McKenzie’s duet of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Audio and recording engineer Jon Robertson again delivers a slick sound mix. Mark A. Exline is credited with the production design. Officially, the show was “conceived and curated” by Lackey and produced and directed by Tim Scott, whose videography is excellent. We’ve come to expect nothing less in these slick MTH virtual productions.
Because the show was filmed in the hotel gallery, the music is sometimes broken up with examples of work by local artists. They include Patricia Bordallo Dibildox, Gabrielle Flores, Lizbeth de la Luna, Jada Patterson, Aquetzali (Kiki) Serna and SHENEQUA. Glyneisha Johnson, whose art work is also seen, receives credit as the “location and gallery curator.”
Great music and strong visuals are a combination that never fails. My hope is that even after we get past the pandemic and living, breathing audiences return to real theaters to see live theater, MTH will continue producing these slick video productions for home consumption.
“The Music of Motown”is available for streaming through Feb. 6. For more information, visit www.mthkc.com.