Thursday, September 21, 2017
Berry Gordy does Motown one more time
By Jennifer Bihm, Contributing Writer
Published July 26, 2012


Berry Gordy, the Master of Motown with some of the Motown legends.  

Though others have tried, in doing ‘Motown: the Musical,’ Berry Gordy, the Motown genius tells the Motown story, like only he can.  

Berry Gordy is an iconic figure who has had unprecedented influence on the American culture.  His legacy of excellence is matched only by the lasting imprint and impact that his Motown music has had on influencing the artistry of the music, art and culture of the entire world.

“In knowing Berry Gordy as I do,” said Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., executive publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel, “I know that I can safely say that with ‘Motown the Musical’ coming to Broadway, we ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Truth, said the legendary music producer and idol maker, would be the basis of an upcoming Broadway musical portraying the timeline of his life’s work.

“I’ve found that truth, if done right is always a hit and I’m so happy to be able to tell it and show it in an entertaining way,” Gordy explained to the Sentinel in a recent interview.  

“[The show] is about how and why Motown became what it is.”

Using the backdrop of the sixties and the Civil Rights Movement, Gordy teams up with fellow producers Kevin McCollum (Rent, In the Heights) and Doug Morris (Sony Music) to present “Motown the Musical,” opening on Broadway in 2013. He based the play on his autobiography “To be Loved,” a somewhat revealing account of the interweaving of his personal and professional lives, most notably addressing a five year affair with singer Diana Ross. Critics of the book and upcoming musical so far, are dismissing both as an attempt by Gordy to offset the unfavorable and sometimes hostile stories others have told about him and life inside the Motown Hit Machine. However, he maintains that it was the artists and his relationships with them as his inspiration.  

 “The play is based on those relationships,” Gordy said.  

“This story is being told to remind everyone of the legacy of Motown that we built together. The people who were part of the Motown family that created history together have proven over and over again that love overcomes all.  The world will understand why we cannot, not love each other…”

Before Motown, Gordy had been writing moderately successful hits for then fledgling artists like Jackie Wilson and Etta James. He used the songwriting money to begin producing and building a collection of quality artists. One of those artists, Smokey Robinson of the Miracles encouraged him to begin his own production company.  

As the story goes, in 1959 Gordy borrowed about $800 from his family members to start Tamla Records, which eventually became Motown Record Corporation, one of the most successful recording labels in world history. But his success was often tempered by scandal. No one really “said it out loud,” but in later years, accusations of his moral and ethical instability were often portrayed through Gordy-esque caricatures in movies like Dreamgirls or sitcoms like Fresh Prince of Bel Aire that likened him to a hustler, a philanderer and a pimp.  

However controversial the man, his business acumen and his skill for recognizing talent had been repeatedly manifested through the fame and legendary status of artists like the Temptations, Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Jackson 5 and Stevie Wonder. Through Motown, Gordy produced nearly 200 number one hits.  

He also produced movies like Lady Sings the Blues and Mahogany, establishing star status for actor Billy Dee Williams. Gordy sold the company in 1988. Through Broadway, he said, he will be able to show people more accurately “the magic” that was Motown in its hey day.

“Broadway is the pinnacle of live theater and provides a challenging and exciting opportunity to share my story,” he said.  

“I’ve discovered that Broadway and Motown have a lot in common— a family of wonderfully talented, passionate, hard working young people, fiercely competitive but also full of love and appreciation for the work, for each other and for the people in the audience. I can’t wait to feel that same Motown spirit come alive on stage every night.”

“Motown and Berry Gordy’s influence on music and our culture is unparalleled. I’m thrilled to have the chance to produce the story of the rise of Motown on Broadway,” said McCollum.  

Fellow producer Morris describes Gordy as “a true American pioneer.”

“This is an amazing opportunity for everyone to experience the Motown phenomenon through the eyes of the man who lived it and to hear some of the greatest pop songs of all on a Broadway stage.”

The producers have not given any specifics on exact opening dates or casting. Last week they announced they are looking for “one multi-talented boy to play young versions of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Gordy himself” in the play.   

“This show is displaying my life’s work and is very special to me. The Motown artists that the actors are portraying are so special to me, that this could very well be the last big thing I will be doing. But I’ve said that before…,” Gordy said.




Categories: Theater

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