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

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15 Apr 2013

Brandon Victor Dixon; guests LaChanze, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Rosanna Arquette
Brandon Victor Dixon; guests LaChanze, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Rosanna Arquette
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Meet the first-nighters at the Broadway opening of Motown the Musical.  Berry Gordy, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Mary Wilson and Gladys Knight were there — and so was Playbill.

It was 32 years in the coming, but on April 14 at the Lunt-Fontanne, Berry Gordy and Diana Ross finally delivered to Broadway their official company-line rebuttal to Dreamgirls, an admitted fiction that played fast 'n' loose with the facts and fantasies of The Supremes split-up. It was called Motown, and, true to its brand name, it was one big platter spin, separated by flashes of varnished truth. The credits said it all: "Book by Berry Gordy. Music and Lyrics from The Legendary Motown Catalog."

Making the occasion all the sweeter was the fact that Gordy and Ross sat in the audience, side by side, and watched the story of their lives wash over them in a tuneful tsunami that is a continuing testament to Gordy's eye and ear for talent.

After the curtain call, Gordy joined the jubilation on stage and took a deep and well-deserved bow. "All I wanna do," he said, "is thank you all for sharing this dream."

Surrounding him were real-life figments of his dream factory, who had popped up from the audience and rushed forth to congratulate their former boss. In addition to Ross, an event all by herself, there were Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Mary Wilson, Gladys Knight, The Commodores, Suzanne de Pass and on and on...

Gordy's dream began with Joe Louis' knockout punch in 1948 that made him champ of the world and proved to eight-year-old Berry what's possible when that dream is connected to drive and determination. Starting out as a songwriter, he found he had an unfailing flair for spotting talent, so he started his own starmaking assembly line in Detroit, manufacturing and marketing what became known as the Motown sound.

As soon as stars reached a certain high altitude and felt the restraining tugs of Gordy's strings, they knew they had to leave his nurturing nest—and did by hook, crook or litigation. Even his prize canary, La Ross, left her gilded cage—for $20 mil. It happened time and time again, but in February of 1983 they all came home for one night only—to salute the 25th anniversary of Motown and the man who manipulated them into major-league stardom. The play begins here, with Bitter Berry festering in his den over their ingratitude and rejection. Even special pleading from his steadfast star, Smokey Robinson, can't roust him out of his misery, but, in the manner of an old Warner Bros. biopic, he rallies and attends. Fade out.

Such is The Gospel According to Berry Gordy, and even if you were not paying attention at the time, you'll be amazed at how many of them have stuck to the roof of your mind. They parade in front of you like newfound old friends: "Stop! In the Name of Love," "My Guy," "My Girl," "ABC," "I Hear a Symphony," "Good Morning, Heartache," "I Heard It Through the Grapevine"—57 in all, plus some new ones by Gordy and Michael Lovesmith to advance 25 years of plot.


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