Traci Robinson has a little warning for anyone in the vicinity of Layton’s Kenley Amphitheater this weekend.
Wear comfortable footwear.
Basically, something that you can move and groove in.
“I would tell people ‘Wear your dancing shoes,’” Robinson advises. “This show is designed to get you on your feet, to get you to stand up and dance.”
The show she’s referring to is Forever Motown, a New York-based touring revue coming to the Davis Arts Council’s outdoor venue on Saturday night. The evening will feature seven singers and five musicians, recreating the greatest hits from Motown groups like The Temptations, The Supremes, The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and The Jackson Five.
Robinson is one of the performers and the creative director for the traveling production. In a recent telephone interview, she explained what audiences can expect from Forever Motown.
“It’s going to be high energy from beginning to end,” she said. “With the best of Motown, for those who grew up with this music it’s a nice little trip down memory lane.”
However, even if you aren’t familiar with Motown and have never heard most of these songs — a situation Robinson highly doubts anyone will find themselves in — “It’s still going to be fun,” she said.
The show will feature songs from well-known artists like The Temptations and The Supremes, as well as slightly more obscure groups like The Spinners and The Contours.
Robinson said they’ll occasionally add or subtract songs from the setlist, based on audience reaction. For example, the show used to feature the Marvin Gaye song “I’ll Be Doggone,” but audiences were a bit indifferent to it and weren’t singing along.
“So we’ll go, ‘OK, they didn’t know that one,’ and move on to another,” she said.
Robinson points out that there are so many Motown hits out there that they’ll never run out of songs to choose from.
Robinson said music is a universal language that speaks to everyone.
“It doesn’t matter your political affiliation, it doesn’t matter your color — good music is good music,” she said.
And with the Motown record label, Berry Gordy managed to strike a chord that resonated with most Americans.
“They really hit on something with the Motown sound,” Robinson said. “It speaks to the soul. Whatever was going on in your life, it was the soundtrack to life.”
Indeed, Robinson remembers as a child that Motown would help make her chores go smoothly.
“I remember my mother playing The Temptations as we cleaned,” she said. “It made cleaning the house fun. Everyone can associate a good memory with the music.”
Calling the upcoming show “transportive,” Robinson said the music they perform will give audience members some respite from from the cares of modern life. She’s watched people forget their problems, get up, and dance with the person sitting next to them.
“Sometimes, we all just need a little break,” she said. “I don’t want to get political, but everybody needs a break from whatever is going on in life, and this show will give you a break.”
In addition to being easy on the ears, Robinson said that the show is also visually pleasing as well. That was one of the hallmarks of the Motown artists — they dressed well, and their choreography was stunning.
“You can’t just get up there and sing,” she said. “That’s how this show is unique. We try to transport people back to that time, when groups like the Supremes and Temptations were dressed so sharp. And The Temptations would spend hours on their choreography; they were one of the best, very tight.”
Robinson said it’s important for the cast of Forever Motown to dress the part of the classic Motown entertainers.
“We want you to know that we’re putting every effort into you having a good time,” she said. “We could probably just wear jeans up there, but would it be as fun? I don’t think so.”
Robinson, who also did the choreography for the Forever Motown show, got her inspiration by watching a lot of old performances from Motown superstars. But then, she also put her own little spin on it.
“I try to give audiences a little nostalgia of the way these groups did it, but I don’t want to just steal their choreography,” she said. “I try to put my own little twist on it.”
Robinson said the audience’s favorite part of the night is usually their tribute to The Temptations. She said they just had so many great, high-energy songs that it’s difficult not to sing and dance along. And Robinson doesn’t worry that the Kenley Amphitheater audiences tend to be older and a little more reserved.
Said Robinson: “Listen, they might be sitting there, like, ‘Nope, nope, nope — just entertain us.’ But guess what: We always win in the end. We have a good time on the stage, and it’s infectious.
“No way you’re not going to get up and have a good time.”