Bit by bit, Berry Gordy’s Broadway vision is being revealed to the world.
The Motown Records founder and about 40 cast members welcomed media to a Manhattan rehearsal studio Thursday for a colorful peek into Motown: The Musical, as the show flies toward its spring opening.
Dozens of journalists assembled for Thursday’s event in what some Broadway media veterans said was a notably large showing of interest for an upcoming show.
A grinning Gordy looked on as cast members performed several high-energy numbers from the musical, their dance steps booming across the rehearsal space during a final ensemble performance of “Dancing in the Street.”
Among them was a pair of Detroiters: 12-year-old Jibreel Mawry played a young Michael Jackson, fronting a group of actors in a medley of Jackson 5 hits set on Ed Sullivan’s show. Jawan Jackson, 25, was a deep-voiced Melvin Franklin in a sleekly choreographed Temptations performance of “My Girl.”
Much of Motown is set in 1960s Detroit, tracing the label’s story through Gordy’s eyes and pivoting around his romance with Diana Ross. Producers are hoping to capture the same mainstream appeal that made hits out of jukebox musicals such as Jersey Boys and Mamma Mia, banking on the enduring appeal of Motown’s song catalog. The show features key Motown roles such as Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye — whose actors spoke enthusiastically and even romantically on Thursday on Motown’s legacy.
Coproducer Kevin McCollum said Motown carries a theme found in his own previous theatrical work, including Broadway hits Rent and Avenue Q: young people coming together to create family.
“It’s about how one man formed a family that, through art and talent, transformed America,” he said.
Director Charles Randolph-Wright recounted an e-mail he got from Gordy, who at 83 seems re-energized by the Motown production — conceiving the script, penning four new songs and working with the cast.
“Thank you for joy at this time in my life when I thought I had everything,” the e-mail read.
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