There is something incredibly exciting coming to Broadway in 2013, and I had the treat of getting a sneak peek last Thursday. “Motown: The Musical.” Yes, you heard me right: Motown is going to be the subject of a musical on Broadway.
And who better to write it than the iconic leader of this musical empire, the one, the only, Berry Gordy? Gordy put pen to paper and wrote about his baby, Motown. The musical is based on his book “To Be Loved,” covering his youth, his inspiration, his dream and his efforts to bring it all to fruition.
The musical not only includes a trip down memory lane, which of course treats the audience to seeing and hearing performers recreating songs by the Temptations, Diana Ross and the Supremes and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, it also includes three new songs that Gordy wrote just for the musical.
The red carpet outside the Nederlander Theatre on West 41st Street was abuzz as Motown greats, including Gordy and Robinson, made their way into the theater. Other celebrities on hand included Aretha Franklin, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, actress Eboni JoAnn and Shelly Berger, the former manager of the Temptations. Charles Randolph-Wright, the musical’s director, was also present.
“I didn’t even know I was dreaming this, but it turned out to be phenomenal and great, and so I’m excited,” Gordy remarked prior to the presentation.
I myself was thrilled to catch up with Franklin, the Queen of Soul, before she sat down, and I asked her why Motown deserved to have a musical on Broadway. “Because they were so original, so historic–the writers clearly have been written into the history books. And with as many records as they sold and with the level of success that Berry and the Motown artists rose to, they should have been on Broadway a long time ago.”
As the evening began, we heard the beloved guitar beat from “My Girl” and saw someone playing the guitar on a screen. Throughout the evening we were treated to the musical’s creative beginnings, given introductions to musical numbers and heard performances of songs like “Dancin’ in the Streets,” “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” “You’re All I Need to Get By” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
The story within the musical opens on the 25th anniversary of Motown in the 1980s and allows Gordy to have a flashback as to what got him to that point. There is also a love story, which focuses on the relationship between Gordy and Diana Ross. A lot of the background of the musical was shared by Kevin McCullum, one of the production’s producers. The musical will begin previews March 11 next year and open on April 14 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. Discount tickets are available only through Oct 31; go to MotownTheMusical.com.
Following the musical numbers, Gordy took the stage and talked about how excited he was to be on Broadway and the relationship he has with his best friend of 50 years, Robinson, who was an integral part of getting Motown going. Robinson also spoke about being at Motown and how it was a family environment. “He works us to death, but he brings out the best in me,” Robinson said.
“Motown: The Musical” features a cast of 35, with Brandon Victor Dixon as Gordy. This cast is magnificent and it was only a sneak peek, so I can’t imagine how incredible the full production experience will be.
The creative team consists of David Korins, scenic design; ESosa, costumes; Natasha Katz, lighting design; Peter Hylenski, sound design; Daniel Brodie, projection design; Charles G. LaPointe, hair and wigs; and eye-popping choreography by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams. There is a 19-piece orchestra supervised by Ethan Popp. Popp and Bryan Cook did orchestrations and arrangements.
Randolph-Wright talked onstage about being part of this production and his admiration for Gordy and afterward he shared, “Mr. Gordy was one of my great influences. He inspired me and gave me permission to do what I do. Years ago, you didn’t have those kinds of role models–someone to say you can have this, you can be this–and that’s what he did for so many of us. Not just for the kids in Detroit or at Motown, all of us, the doors opened just because of one person. He single-handedly changed the world, and that’s astonishing.
“The message behind Motown is joy, love, hope, passion and to dream. And the musical will cross racial barriers–everyone relates to every part of this. It’s not just their music, it’s the sound of young America. Not Black or white America, or rich or poor America–it’s the sound of young America,” Randolph-Wright said.
This is the time to bring this to Broadway, according to the director: “Especially with what’s happening in the world, we’re so polarized, we are so separated again, we need something to bring us together, and I want this to do that.”