Musical introduces Motown to a new generation


By Michael Kinney

As the daughter of a musician, Amber Johnson grew up in a house full of music. Whether it was country or old-school R&B, the Norman native was raised with melodies and songs.

Despite that, after graduating from Norman High School in 1998 and attending the University of Oklahoma, Johnson found herself developing an interest in working behind the scenes of musicals instead of singing onstage.

The Motown sound made an impact on Johnson growing up. Founded in Detroit in 1958, it was described as “the soundtrack of a generation.” Johnson can attest to that, as everyone from The Temptations to The Supremes has reserved a place in her memories.

As an adult, Johnson finds herself working on Motown’s reincarnation as an assistant stage manager for Broadway’s Motown the Musical.

For me, Motown has such a great history and growing up in a household where music was very important, to be part of something that is continuing the legacy of Motown music, bringing people together with the music is important and a great thing to be part of,” Johnson said.

Motown the Musical opens March 7 at Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N. Walker Ave., and runs through March 12.

It’s based on founder Berry Gordy’s autobiography To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown and the story of how Gordy transformed a small label to the biggest hitmaking machine of the 1960s. The label featured Stevie Wonder, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson, The Isley Brothers, Diana Ross, Boyz II Men, Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson.

David Kaverman, who portrays Robinson, said the production hits all the right notes.

For me, it has really been life-changing. It came at the right time to spread this message of love and family and unity among people and the importance of music,” he said. “We just had a brunch at Mr. Gordy’s house. It was just really humbling and eye-opening to see the kind of history he’s had through the pictures on his wall and everything. Now, we’re part of that Motown family and all these great legends, iconic people, movement makers, inspirers. So for me, it’s one of the high points of my life so far.”

Motown soul

The current Motown the Musical tour is the second one since the show opened on Broadway in 2013. But this is Kaverman’s first run as a castmember.

He originally auditioned as an ensemble player. After several callbacks, he faced the chance of a lifetime.

They kept calling me back for more things, different things. I ended up in the final round auditioning for Smokey,” Kaverman said. “We had our opening in LA, and Smokey Robinson came and saw the show and I got to meet him. … He gave me some really nice words and was really supportive of the work I’m doing trying to capture him on stage.”

In researching his character, Kaverman said he learned about the importance of Motown and that Robinson was more than a performer.

Smokey was really kind of the heart and soul of Motown,” Kaverman said. “He was a prolific songwriter. Wrote a lot of music for Motown, for other groups, which I really didn’t know before. He was also a leader. He rose to be vice president of the company, so he understood the business side as well as the creative side. In the show, we have a couple of tense scenes in which Smokey is taking charge.”

Along with Kaverman, Motown the Musical stars Chester Gregory as Gordy, Allison Semmes as Ross and Jarran Muse as Gaye. CJ Wright and Raymond Davis Jr. portray Jackson and Wonder as young boys.

While the behind-the-scenes stories on the uphill battles Motown endured shape the show, the music gives it its soul. Motown the Musical features more than 40 hit songs, including “My Girl,” “What’s Going On,” “Dancing in the Street,” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

Kaverman described a part in the show in which Diana Ross asks everyone in the auditorium to hold hands as they all sing together. He said he feels the energy coming from the room. He wants as many people as possible to feel that same energy.

I would say come to the show because the music is fantastic,” Kaverman said. “And there are such good stories. There is something there to latch onto that is real. It’s touching and inspiring. I think people go to theaters to have a good time, but also to feel things. But I think people will be surprised with how much heart this show has.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with

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New Thunder fit perfectly in first game

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — Alex Abrines knew there was a chance he’d get his first start of the season for Oklahoma City. With Victor Oladipo ailing, Abrines was the next man up.
However, what the rookie didn’t expect was to post a career-high 19 points to help the Thunder beat the Los Angeles Lakers 110-93 on Friday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Abrines knew how important it was for him to see his first couple of shots go through the rim.
“I was feeling pretty good,” Abrines said. “For the shooters, to hit their first shot it gets more easy as you get confidence. So it was important to hit the first two.”
Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook collected his 28th triple-double of the season. He scored 17 points on 4-of-17 shooting from the field to go with 17 assists and 18 rebounds.
Andre Roberson matched Abrines with 19 points as they combined to hit eight of the team’s 10 3-pointers. Steven Adams collected 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Thunder (33-25).
D’Angelo Russell paced the Lakers (19-41) with 29 points on 12-of-26 shooting from the floor. Jordan Clarkson came off the bench to score 14 points and Julius Randle added 13.
Magic Johnson, the Lakers’ new president of basketball operations, was in the building to watch the team for the first time since taking over. For the players, that means they are playing not only for the present but also for the future.
“It’s good. It like you’re starting over and trying to impress,” Russell said. “It’s like coming to a new team. Trying to impress the GM (general manager) and the guys in the front office with your play, with your off the court and the way you handle yourself. So it’s just all different.”
The Thunder reserves made the biggest impact in the first half. Abrines scorched the Lakers for 10 first-quarter points. That included knocking down two 3-pointers.
Oklahoma City also received strong contributions from its newest members. Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott, who were traded from Chicago on Thursday, didn’t hesitate to get involved in their first game with the Thunder. The duo combined for 10 points.
“It felt great,” Gibson said. “I didn’t want to mess up. I was able to calm down and have a lot of fun with the guys. It’s a great group of guys, real unselfish. … I had a great time tonight.”
The Lakers stayed in striking distance throughout the first half. Russell and Clarkson were able to knock down a few jumpers while also driving to the rim for layups.
Los Angeles trailed Oklahoma City 58-51 at halftime.
Abrines once again came out on fire to start the third quarter. He hit three quick 3-pointers as the Thunder stormed ahead to a 73-58 advantage.
The third quarter was a disaster for the Lakers. Not only were they unable to slow down the Thunder, their offense fell apart.
Only Russell seemed to be able to get his shot off as they fell behind by 20 points.
Westbrook reached his triple-double midway through the quarter. He gaves his new teammates a front-row view of what the type of season he has been having.
“It’s a lot better to be with him than against him,” McDermott said of Westbrook.
The Lakers finally found their offense in the fourth quarter as Randle and Ingram joined the party. They were able to cut the Thunder lead to nine with four minutes left but didn’t have enough left in the tank to finish the run.
“I think the key was defense,” Thunder center Enes Kanter said. “I think we did a very good job of communication. We did a really good job on pick and rolls. I think the most important thing was everybody give 100 percent effort.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer for

Thunder revamp lineup with 5-player trade


By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – While most of the teams in the NBA have a timid approach when it comes to making trades, the Oklahoma City Thunder never have been in that category. 
As the 2016-17 trade deadline approached Thursday, Thunder General Manager Sam Presti once again showed he is not afraid to make moves. 
Presti sent guard Cameron Payne, forward Anthony Morrow and forward Joffrey Lauvergne to the Chicago Bulls for forward Taj Gibson, forward Doug McDermott and a 2018 second round draft pick. 
This was the third major trade the Thunder have been involved in since the end of last season. Only seven players remain from the unit that lost to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. 
The move strengthens the Oklahoma City bench and provides more consistent scoring around MVP candidate Russell Westbrook. 

Russell can help both of these guys, and both of them complement him,” Presti said. “I think we’re a better team this evening than we were this morning.”

Gibson leaves Chicago averaging 11.6 points and 7.0 rebounds a game. McDermott is posting 10 points a night while shooting 37 percent from 3-point range. 
Gibson, who had been with the Bulls for eight years, says he didn’t find out about the trade until after Thursday’s practice. 
“We were joking about (trades),” Gibson told the Daily Herald. “Nobody really took it seriously the whole practice. When (Jimmy Butler) heard the news, he texted me because everybody just left and didn’t know what was going to happen. 
“He texted me that he loved me of course and he’d see me in the summer. Continue to keep doing well and go get the bags. That’s his words.” 
The Thunder return back to action Friday night for their first game since the All-Star break. It is doubtful Gibson or McDermott will be in uniform when they host the Los Angeles Lakers at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. 
The Lakers are still feeling the impact of the takeover of Magic Johnson, who was named president of Basketball Operations Tuesday. 
The Hall of Famer met with his team for the first time Wednesday in the Lakers’ first practice since before taking off for All-Star weekend. It didn’t take long for Johnson to sell the talented, but young Lakers on where he wants to guide the franchise. 
“The Lakers organization isn’t a losing organization,” guard D’Angelo Russell told “He wants to get back to where we were.” 
Johnson led the Lakers to five NBA titles in his 12-year career. Along with Larry Bird, he is credited with turning around the NBA in the 1980s. 
But Johnson might have an even tougher challenge doing the same for the current Lakers (19-39), which sit one game out of last place in the Western Conference. 
Johnson’s first move as president was to trade sixth-man Lou Williams to the Houston Rockets for Corey Brewer and an unprotected first-round pick. Los Angeles also showed interest in trying to pry Paul George away from the Indianapolis Pacers, but was unsuccessful. 
“Everything happened so fast,” Lakers coach Luke Walton “The initial thought is why do it right before the trade deadline, but Magic came in and we got to work right away.” 
However, whether the Lakers made any trades or not, Westbrook really wasn’t concerned. He made it clear, he doesn’t care what changes are made to other teams. 
“Like I’ve always said, I never worry about other teams,” Westbrook said. “I don’t care if the Lakers have Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar), Kobe (Bryant), it don’t matter. All my job is to worry about my team and who we got here and we go out and compete.” 
One of the pleasant surprises for Oklahoma City was having center Enes Kanter return to practice for the first time since he fractured his forearm Jan. 26 in a game against Dallas when he slammed it into a chair. 
The Thunder have been without his 14 points and almost seven rebounds a game and it has showed. 
Kanter took part in drills Thursday and Friday, but coach Billy Donovan hasn’t said whether he will be available when the Thunder host the Lakers at Chesapeake Energy Arena. 
“Him being out there with the team, it’s just good to have him back,” Thunder center Steven Adams said of Kanter. “Just a lot of energy.” 
Oklahoma City (32-25) has 25 games left on its schedule. Only seven of those are against teams with winning records. As they fight to move up in the standings, the players admitted to looking at the standings and talking about what they have to do going forward. 
“We want to try and create some rhythm, some momentum going toward the right direction,” Westbrook said.

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with

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