“One of the reasons why we’re able to come back, which I don’t think people realize, [is] how much Motown is in our culture,” said producer Kevin McCollum at the Motown press event welcoming the production back to New York City, where it opened for the first time in 2013.
When it announced its closing in 2014, it was already a hit—recouping its $18 million investment before it played its final performance January 18, 2015—but it was decided that the show would have the out-of-town tryout it never had to rework certain aspects. Motown became leaner—both in terms of storytelling and weekly production costs—on tour, and plans were always in place for its 2016 Broadway return.
Although there are still well over 50 songs in the show, the cast size went from 41 on Broadway to 33 on tour. The New York Times originally reported that weekly production costs would decrease from $850,000 to $675,000.
“We opened cold on Broadway,” McCollum continued, “so now we’ve had time, and Mr. [Berry] Gordy never stops tweaking and working.” Berry Gordy, the show’s central character, the driving force behind the music of the Motown era and the musical’s book writer and producer, is an integral part in the evolution of Motown The Musical.
“It’s tighter, and it’s more real,” Gordy explained. “The other one before was entertaining, and it was great. It’s the same show, but it’s tighter, and it’s different.”
McCollum said that the 2016 version of Broadway’s Motown includes “a lot more projection video.” Lines have been cut, sets have been scaled back, and Motown is ready for the more intimate space it will play—the 1,232-seat Nederlander Theatre as compared to the 1,505-seat Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.
“We have these video panels that we never had before,” McCollum said. “We were inventing the show the first time.”
He added that the show is able to come back because fans of the Motown era still flock to see it performed. When it first announced its closing (and plans to reopen), “people said, ‘How can you announce you’re coming back to Broadway. It’s two years away. How do you know?’ I said, ‘I know [that] after the Tonys there’s usually a theatre or two available, and Motown is an international hit.’ … I believe people will discover our show again [during our] limited run… Then we’ll go out again with the tour, and we start in January in Vegas.”
When the Motown tour launched in Chicago, tickets sold fast. “We sold 16 weeks out and we did over $22 million,” said McCollum. “I [thought], ‘We’re strong enough to come back to Broadway,’ so we’re back for the summer, and we’ll have hot summer nights. Summer is here, and the time is right…!”