Spinning the record back on soul’s finest (Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross), Motown: The Musical achieves what Dreamgirls and Sparkle only reached for: a visual memoir of Detroit’s 1960s hit machine. With previews kicking off yesterday (April 14), the play’s director breaks down what to expect.
VIBE: Everyone’s listened to the Motown classics, but now people will get to experience it live. Can you explain the scope of the play?
Charles Randolph-Wright: It’s mammoth. The bulk of the story is really the ’60s: the beginning of Motown and Motown really hitting. Some of it, we fast-forward because it ends at Motown 25 in ’83. Actually, ’83 is a framing device for the show. So Motown 25 sort of opens and closes the show. There was a Temptations miniseries, a Jacksons miniseries. Everybody’s had their own books. This is a musical that is Motown, but it’s through [Gordy’s] eyes.
There are 50 different versions of how it happened. But his version is a very significant version. You get to take your own journey as you’re taking his journey, his triumph and his heartbreak. I think it’s very important to leave room for people’s memories, so that when you hear “My Girl,” it’s like, “I proposed to my wife with ‘My Girl.'” “My girlfriend was so-and-so.” “My baby was born on this.” Mr. Gordy always talks about “the people.” That’s so imperative to him, because the people made Motown. It’s really a gift back to those people, that get to see this journey.