PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Motown: The Starmaker and His Galaxy

By Harry Haun
15 Apr 2013

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The only conspicuous falsehood the show advances is that of the singing Gordy. "Barry can sing," Dixon insisted with asterisks. "He's a combination of Billy Eckstine and Donald Duck. Letting him sing is a creative conceit that we take. The thing is he's a songwriter, a creative individual, so we're still expressing that. He really is a miracle guy. Everything he chose was a hit. He's really, truly blessed us tonight."

Having Diana Ross in attendance didn't phase Valisia LeKae at all—"Every night I tell myself she's in the audience"—and it definitely didn't affect her performance of her, which has a diva-like edge to it with independence, temperament and sass.

"All the choices I made in my portrayal of her was based on a lot of research I did. I wanted to present her as honestly as I could." It certainly goes down well with the crowd. "They do that every night. We've had the pleasure of really great audiences."

Another fave with the audience was Bryan Terrell Clark's Marvin Gaye. "I was really, really surprised," he remarked about their enthusiasm. "When you're working in rehearsals, you're kinda in a bubble—and I'm one of those actors who get extremely focused on the work, and so I had no idea how the audience was going to respond, but, from the first preview to tonight, audiences have received what I had in my heart.

"As an actor, I deliberately tried my best not to do an imitation—it's just not my taste in art. For some people, that might be great, but I just wanted to bring the essence of who he was. Of course, I studied him. There are certain gestures, certain physical postures to any character work, but imitating him was never my objective."

In Gaye's final scene, he asks Gordy to drop the surrogate-father act. "I got a dad!" he tells him in an exit line that has a decided chill. (The day before his 45th birthday, the singer was shot by his father with a gun he had given him as a Christmas present.) "When I first read that line, I almost dropped my script," Clark said.

"It's kinda surreal meeting a woman who's very much alive, very much still in the business doing her thing," Ariana DeBose said about Mary Wilson. "To portray her legacy eight times a week—thus far, it's been amazing—so to pay tribute to her tonight, with her in the audience, was really wonderful. I did know she was here. It was a little nerve-racking, but nothing we couldn't handle. At least I had Mary Wilson. Valisia had Diana Ross—but both of them are fabulous women."