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Based on Motown founder Berry Gordy’s bestselling book and presenting a potted history of the famous record label, this five-star production is crammed to its proverbial rafters with hit after legendary hit, transporting audiences back to a long-ago era of vinyl, flares, furs and feathers.
The musical’s narrative is based around plans for a 25th anniversary bash for the record label - and a stubborn Gordy’s refusal to attend.
Reflecting on his career, the show tells the story of how the former boxer (with the help of an $800 loan from his family) took both black and popular music to spectacular new levels.
The show features more than 50 classic Motown hits, including My Girl, What's Going On, Dancing In The Street, I Heard It Through The Grapevine and Ain't No Mountain High Enough.
7.30pm with 2.30pm shows Wed & Sat
£13.00 - £59.50
It’s been almost 60 years since the iconic record label, Motown was founded in Detroit, Michigan by the now legendary Mr Berry Gordy. Synonymous with launching the careers of Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and the Jackson 5 to name but a few, Motown Records enjoyed success on both sides of the Atlantic. Now the story of the record label’s success, and the phenomenal amount of hits it produced, is told in Motown The Musical. Currently a smash hit in the West End, the show embarks on its first ever UK Tour in October and visits the Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, from Tuesday 21 May to Saturday 1 June.
After decades of working with Mr Berry Gordy at Motown Records, during which he has coached the Jackson 5, produced the likes of The Temptations and The Supremes alongside a successful career as a performer, Michael Lovesmith has now turned his talent and knowledge of Motown to Motown The Musical, working as Creative Consultant. We sat down with Michael and the show’s acclaimed director Charles Randolph-Wright to find out more about Motown The Musical from two of the people who know Mr Gordy, and the show, best.
“I was basically born and raised in music.” Michael tells me, “I was on the road as a child, singing in churches as a trio with my brothers. Then at age eleven I was introduced to Holland-Dozier-Holland, who signed me to a song writing contract, and I wrote my first song for them, to be performed by Dionne Warwick.” Charles Randolph-Wright then interjects, “At age eleven! I just want to make sure that’s clear, you were eleven!” Modest as ever, Michael continues, “It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and it was a good thing I had a good song! I met Mr Gordy at age seventeen, and by that time I had produced about twelve artists. Motown wanted me to work with the ‘Jackson 5’. I was their age, so I could relate to them in a way that not everybody could. They were so used to working with older people who didn’t quite understand their energy! I ended up becoming Berry Gordy’s protégé, and started producing and vocal coaching Michael and his brothers. Then soon after that I started recording with The Supremes and The Temptations. That’s pretty much how I got started.”
Charles Randolph-Wright joined the Motown family at a later stage, coming on board to direct Motown The Musical which premiered on Broadway in 2013, “For me Motown has always been part of my life. The opportunity to work with Mr Gordy was mind-blowing when this project came up because he was and is a major inspiration to me.” His enthusiasm and warmth for the project is clear as he goes on to explain, “In terms of how I got started in directing, my family says that I was directing from the minute I was walking. Theatre fascinated me from my very first experience in the audience. But even as a performer, I always was intrigued by directing and writing. I was in the original cast of Dreamgirls on Broadway and directed a fellow performer’s nightclub act. That lead to several other acts, and more jobs followed. I knew then that would be my focus.”
Motown The Musical tells the story of Mr Gordy’s life and the development of Motown Records in Detroit, Michigan which soon became known as Hitsville USA. What was it like for Michael being at the epicentre of the Motown movement at the time? “I was desperate to get to Detroit and get working in music but my parents wanted me to get through school, so I studied and studied so I could graduate from high school early and from there I went straight to Detroit.” Michael explains, “The funny thing about Motown is, I think Motown could have been anywhere, and in a sense it was.” Charles begins nodding enthusiastically and adds, “Absolutely. Every city had a girl group, a guy group, a kids’ group and a lead singer but the unique thing that Detroit had was Berry Gordy.”
“He was this beacon of light,” concurs Michael, “showing you what you can do and what you could be. There were musicians and singers all over the country, but Detroit had Berry Gordy so it became a magnet for them.”
Charles explains how that then informed his direction of Motown The Musical, “Of course, that’s what we are able to explore in the show, how Mr Gordy’s ambition and talent founded Motown. It’s not a Detroit sound, it’s a Motown sound. Although some people think Motown is a real place!”
Michael laughs, “You know what though, it almost was.”
With such an iconic sound that audiences have loved for almost six decades, how do you begin the process of faithfully recreating that on stage? Michael looks to Charles, and smiles, “We searched high and low for someone who understands the need for the show to sound like Motown.” he says, “One person came to meet us, and gave us his idea of how he would find a Stevie Wonder, a Michael Jackson, a Smokey Robinson, which we didn’t think was possible, and that person was Charles Randolph-Wright.”
“Oh, you were talking about me!” exclaims Charles, bashfully, “I didn’t realise, I was listening so intently!”
“Charles walked into the room and knew what Motown is, who Motown is and what Motown looks and feels like. He grew up on this music.”
“Motown is all we ever really listened to growing up!” agrees Charles.
Michael goes on, praising Charles’ vision further, “He understood Motown, and that is what we were looking for. We put the show in his hands.”
Did Charles then feel under pressure when directing? “Oh yes, I felt pressure. It was so important to me because Mr Gordy is one of my idols, so I wanted to create the show that he wanted to see. I approached it the way that Berry Gordy approached it – I needed to find artists that would evoke a certain thing. What I never wanted to do was find people who would just impersonate those performers, I wanted them to make me feel the way Diana Ross made me feel, an actress that would actually make me put my hands up and sing “Reach Out and Touch”. I had a goldmine to work with because Mr Gordy and Michael were there to help, and they knew these people before they were the icons they became. I wanted to find people who had what these people did before they became stars. What was that spark, what was that tone?”
“What was great about Charles’ casting process is he would find people who were so good, we wanted to sign them as artists in their own right! He had a vision, just like Mr Gordy. Sometimes I even call him ‘Little Berry’. He understood what to look for.” Says Michael.
Charles goes on to explain “It’s finding that energy, sometimes it’s such raw performers and sometimes it’s people who have been in ten shows. It’s an instinctive thing – they’re Motown. Working closely with Mr Gordy and Michael I’ve been able to ask, what is that thing that Stevie Wonder has, what is that specific thing that Smokey has? We find that in someone that is authentic in them, rather than make them pretend to be that.”
After success on Broadway and in the West End, Michael explains why the team really wanted to bring Motown The Musical to the rest of the UK, “We owed it to the UK. The UK is probably 50% responsible for the success of Motown, it is the heart of Motown and the UK has kept Motown alive. The vibe here is fantastic, audiences are screaming and cheering and it’s incredible, it’s like being back in one of the shows from the 70s. The UK has always loved Motown, and we needed to do this tour because we know wherever we take Motown The Musical in the UK, it will be loved.”
Charles chips in, saying, “What has surprised me the most with audiences is that Motown appeals to every age. I love that each audience member finds some aspect of this show that resonates with them. The show is infectious, and the UK truly knows and loves this music.”
Charles concludes, “It’s not just a record label, it’s not just a show, it’s a movement.”
Motown Records and its artists certainly made their mark on the world and its music, producing some of the greatest chart-topping songs from the 1950s through to the 1980s. A West End musical telling the story of the legendary label is coming to Birmingham this month. What’s On caught up with the show’s producer, Adam Spiegel, to find out more...
Think Motown and heaven knows how many famous songs spring readily to mind. From Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine to The Supreme’s Stop! In The Name Of Love, the Detroit-based record label scored hit after massive hit, year after year, decade after decade. Along the way, it routinely took top spot as the highest-earning African American business in the United States.
This month sees the arrival in Birmingham of a show dedicated to the magic of the now-legendary label. Motown The Musical celebrates the sensational Motown sound by telling the story of its founder, Berry Gordy; from his humble beginnings on a car production line to a career spent signing some of the greatest artists of the 20th century and beyond.
Starting with just an $800 loan from his family, Gordy’s passion for music and desire for success catapulted Motown into the limelight and helped to unite a racially divided nation.
“The thing about Motown,” reflects producer Adam Spiegel, “was that it made a considerable contribution to the changes that took place in the ’60s and ’70s in America, in terms of racial integration and some kind of equality. Suddenly, ‘black’ music was being listened to by everyone in the country, rather than just on ‘black’ radio stations, and that was a huge change. I think the stars of Motown became the icons of the whole country, so those same stars became the face of America all across the world.”
Adam agrees with the man himself, Berry Gordy, when he said that Motown was made to be on the stage.
"I think any music that makes people automatically want to sing and dance deserves to be on stage. Also, with this show, we’re in a situation where we’re telling the story of an iconic record label that changed the world - it couldn’t be more deserving of the stage spotlight.”
And Motown The Musical is absolutely the real deal: it’s being produced in collaboration with Berry Gordy himself, to ensure the story is as authentic as possible.
"I feel very lucky. We’ve worked very hard at it, and yet being associated with something like this remains a huge privilege. Being able to spend time with Berry himself is extraordinary, and it’s something that I’m enormously grateful to be able to do. But also, the whole team of designers, directors, writers, musicians, actors for the show have really been of the very highest quality, and it’s been lovely to be a part of putting Motown The Musical together.”
The cast and crew behind the production have plenty of fun making the show, but Adam is sure its Midlands audience will enjoy it even more.
“The more fun you have making something, the more fun it is to watch - those do go hand-in-hand. Working with the music of Motown is a constant pleasure. You walk into the rehearsal room and someone is going to be singing My Girl or something by the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder or Smokey Robinson. It’s an intensely vibrant and exciting environment. We have a great time doing it, but I hope people who come to see the show enjoy it even more.”
Picking just one stand-out track from Motown’s repertoire is a real task, but Adam does have a favourite: “There are over 50 songs in the show and it’s extremely hard to select just one, but I would have to say Dancing In The Streets by Martha And The Vandellas. It makes everybody just want to jump up and down.
“I honestly think Motown The Musical is the best time you’ll have in the theatre, not least because it’s a fantastic opportunity to enjoy the best music ever written!"
Motown The Musical shows at Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, from Thursday 11 October to Saturday 3 November.
By Lauren Cole
There was certainly an abundance of Motown magic in Birmingham last night when this multi-award-winning show took to the stage of the recently revamped (and renamed) Alexandra Theatre.
Based on Motown founder Berry Gordy’s bestselling book and presenting a potted history of the famous record label, the five-star production is crammed to its proverbial rafters with hit after legendary hit, transporting audiences back to a time of vinyl, flares and, in the case of Diana Ross, furs and feathers.
Having made its debut on Broadway in 2013, the musical tells a story based around plans for a 25th anniversary bash for the record label - and a stubborn Gordy’s refusal to attend. Reflecting on his career, we witness how the former boxer (with the help of an $800 loan from his family) took black music to new levels and transformed popular music across the globe.
Although somewhat lacking in strong narrative, the production showcases some truly top-notch performances. Most notable among these are Edward Baruwa’s punch-packed turn as Gordy and Shak Gabbidon-Williams’ impressive portrayal of Marvin Gaye, perfectly mirroring the legendary soul singer’s unmistakable vocals.
Former Stooche band member Karis Anderson gives a pitch-perfect performance as Diana Ross, from her formative years at high school when she first approached Gordy to perform, through to her solo career and eventual Las Vegas mega-stardom.
A highlight amongst highlights comes from Yami Mirazi, who gives a sterling performance as a young Michael Jackson. His vocals and moves are superb, as the group’s debut on The Ed Sullivan Show in December 1969, performing I Want You Back, is perfectly reenacted.
Full to its brim with toe-tapping, hand-clapping, iconic and feelgood hits, Motown The Musical is an explosion of energy, colour, brilliant choreography and supreme performances that are nothing short of Solid Gold.
Reviewed by Patsy Moss
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