From College Classmates to Tony Nominations, Broadway Buddies Stark Sands and Charl Brown Enjoy the Journey

By Harry Haun
14 Jun 2013

His Anglo-American battles these days are confined to the stage and restricted to his drag-diva shoe designer, Lola (a Tony-winning Billy Porter). "The emotional high point for me is a song called 'I'm Not My Father's Son,' where we bond over our mutual disconnect with our fathers," Sands said. "Every night, I can actually feel the audience melt.

"The flip side of that is a scene where I try to talk Lola out of a dress for a gala boot launch. The point I'm really trying to make is: 'Just take this one presentation seriously. Just dress like a man. Do this for me. If you don't, it will sink the ship.'"

Brown's big Motown moment is one from the history books; it takes place when Robinson walks out on stage after a gunshot has sounded and sings, "You Really Got a Hold on Me" to a seething, segregated 1960s audience. "For me, that's the emotional center for my journey through the show. I get to connect with something that really happened, something that propelled us all forward as a people. By the end of that scene, the audience has combined, and it's through the music that they're brought together. That's the thesis of our show — how people of different backgrounds are brought together by a common love of music. That's what music does, how it functions in human nature."

Alongside the Berry Gordy of Brandon Victor Dixon, Brown practically qualifies as comic relief. Dixon gets to do straight and narrow while Brown brings some heart and passion to the proceedings. "They're still the best of friends," Brown noted. "It's hard to figure, considering that they worked so closely together for so long. Berry Gordy is — I won't say dictator, but he knows what he wants and how to get it from people. And Smokey is such a nice, giving, loving person. These two men built Motown together, and it took both of them to do it. Obviously it was Berry Gordy's money and his vision, but Smokey was the first artist and the first vice president of the label, and he had everything to do with turning Motown into what it is today."

Needless to add, the Brown/Sands friendship was activated and fortified by music as well.