‘Motown’ brings the soundtrack of our lives to stage
Paul Hyde, [email protected] 3:38 p.m. EST November 18, 2015
Never got to see the Jackson 5 perform live?
That group and other musical legends will be on stage — at least in spirit — as the Broadway tour of “Motown: The Musical” roars into the Peace Center Tuesday for eight performances through Sunday.
The show tells the story of Motown founder Berry Gordy’s journey from featherweight boxer to the heavyweight music mogul who launched the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and many more.
Along the way, actors playing Ross, Jackson, Robinson, Gaye and others perform more than 40 classic hits such as “My Girl” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
At the center of the story is the iconic Gordy, who cultivated the talent that created the Motown sound.
“He made a huge difference,” said Josh Tower, who played Gordy on Broadway and now stars in the national tour.
“I don’t know what music today would look like without him,” he said. “I consider him a hero of our times.”
Gordy, now 84, wrote the book of the musical himself, basing it on his 1994 autobiography, “To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown.”
The show ran on Broadway from April, 2013 to January of this year. It earned four Tony Award nominations.
The story opens in 1983 at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium with several recording stars gathered to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Motown Records.
The story flashes back to 1957 in Detroit, with Gordy creating his own record label and forming friendships with the young Gaye, Robinson, Ross and others who became singing legends.
The actress playing Ross, for her part, sings such early hits as “I Hear a Symphony,” “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You” and “You’re All I Need to Get By.”
“The show offers a little slice of everyone’s life,” Tower said. “When you hear the music, a lot of people will remember where they were when they first heard that song. The show really is the soundtrack of everyone’s life.”
The musical, featuring an onstage cast of almost 40, also touches on landmark events from the 1950s to the 1990s, such as Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
“It encompasses such an intense period in our history,” Tower said.
Tower’s own favorite moment in the show is when the actors playing the Jackson 5 bound onto stage.
“When they come out, it’s just such an amazing spark of energy,” Tower said, speaking by phone during a tour stop in Rochester, New York.
“You can feel what it must have been like to see this incredibly talented band,” he said. “They’re such an iconic group. Everybody knows them, and we have two great little boys alternating in the role of Michael Jackson.”
The show touches on the highs but also the lows of Gordy’s career. Dealing with musical superstars especially could be difficult, Tower said.
“He and Marvin Gaye would often butt heads because Marvin Gaye was a volatile person and Berry Gordy had very strong visions of what he wanted,” Tower said. “They often didn’t see eye to eye.”
Many of the big names Gordy helped to nurture also left him for bigger offers.
“All these acts he found and cultivated left, the Jackson 5, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye,” Tower said. “He took this very personally. He was an optimist but there were definitely moments of darkness and doubt.”
The national tour of “Motown” launched in April, 2014. Tower has performed with the tour for the past six months.
“It’s such an honor to play Berry Gordy,” Tower said.
Tower will never forget his first performance as Gordy on Broadway. His second child, a daughter, was born early the next morning.
“The curtain came down and I rushed to the hospital and my wife gave birth at 4:45 in the morning,” Tower said.
For the latest in local arts news and reviews, follow Paul Hyde on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.
YOU CAN GO
What: “Motown: The Musical”
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday (Nov. 27); 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 28); 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday (Nov. 29)
Where: Peace Center Concert Hall
Tickets: $25 to $95
Information: 864-467-3000 or www.peacecenter.org