Sunday, July 31, 2016 was a day of mixed emotions for Allison Semmes, as the singer/actress, in her lead and epic role of the iconic Diana Ross in “Motown: The Musical,” took her final bow on Broadway – at least for now. Yet for Semmes, performing in her first principal role on Broadway, was a dream come true.
“It was truly amazing,” said Semmes. “My first principal role on Broadway is what I had been waiting and working for. To have this incredible experience has been a blessing. And what made this experience on Broadway extra special was to perform with talented cast members, many of whom, were making their Broadway debut.”
While the Broadway show was originally advertised to run at New York’s Nederlander Theatre into November, shortly after Opening Night, the show’s producers announced that the last day of July would also be the last day of the stage production. Understandably disappointed, Semmes is still thankful for the almost three-week, 24-show run on Broadway.
For Semmes, the finale of “Motown: The Musical” on Broadway represented the end of her two-and-a-half-year journey of playing the storied role of Ross across America. The stage production began touring in Chicago, Semmes’ hometown, in the spring of 2014. From the Windy City, Semmes masterfully portrayed Ross in more than 100 American cities since the First National Tour began. The production even played in Toronto, Ontario Canada.
As Ross, Semmes took pride in the challenge of keeping the role fresh, dynamic and believable.
“I did a lot of research when I was preparing for the role,” Semmes said. “And many times, while on tour, I would go back and listen to her songs or flip through her autobiography or study her on YouTube. I wanted to keep remembering who she was, and still is, as an artist and as a person. I didn’t want to necessarily imitate her; I wanted to capture the essence of her unique mannerisms, and sweet and distinctive voice.”
Semmes’ preparation didn’t go unnoticed on tour, or with tough Broadway critics.
“As Diana Ross, Gordy’s love interest and one of his biggest discoveries, Allison Semmes exudes a mixture of calculating ambition and youthful naïveté,” wrote Charles Isherwood, theater critic for the New York Times, after seeing Semmes on Broadway. “Her singing evokes the cotton candy purr of Ms. Ross’s, without being mere vocal mimicry…”
Semmes was happy to hear such accolades, but, overcoming the rigors and demands to deliver high-level performances – on the road and on Broadway every show – was a great challenge. “Sometimes, I wondered after a performance, how in the world I got through it,” she revealed. “But I would point up and know that God was working through me. If I didn’t have a strong relationship with God, if I didn’t constantly pray, if I didn’t have faith, I’m not sure if I would have made it for so long on this tour. Before each show, however, I always asked God for His guidance to get through it…and He never let me down.”
Now that Broadway’s final curtain has come down on “Motown: The Musical,” Semmes is not sure what’s next in her career. Yet, with an extensive biographical profile that contains such professional stage/musical productions as “Motown: The Musical,” “Dreamgirls,” “Bubbling Brown Sugar,” “The Wiz,” the national tour of “The Color Purple,” and her other Broadway credit in “The Book of Mormon,” Semmes has built a strong foundation to spring her to other lead roles in Broadway shows, or take on an array of television and film roles.
But, has Semmes really played her last role as Diana Ross in “Motown: The Musical”? According to the production’s official website, the show is listed to begin a National Tour again in January, 2017, starting in Las Vegas. However, there was no official mention of the 2017 dates, or future cast members by the show’s producers when they announced the early closing of the stage production on Broadway.
Semmes, who holds a bachelor of music degree in classical voice from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a master’s degree in music, with a concentration in musical theater from New York University (NYU) Steinhardt, said…
“I would love to continue the role, but if not, I will happily pass the torch to another sister to carry on the glorious role of Diana Ross. However, I’ve enjoyed this journey, and I will remember the wonderful experiences and incredible cast members for life. As for my future, I have a lovely peace about everything, and I trust in Divine Timing. I know God will take care of me.”
Regardless of what the future brings career wise, Semmes is appreciative of the opportunity given to her by Berry Gordy to star as Diana Ross in “Motown: The Musical.”
“This has been the opportunity and dream of a lifetime,” said Semmes. “But, it’s really about this special man, Berry Gordy, who had an American dream and $800. Along the way, he discovered and launched the careers of many Motown artists who became legends. So, I’m honored to have been a major part of the touring national cast that told his amazing Motown story to audiences across America, and ultimately, back on Broadway.”
Story by Don St. James
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