Musical telling Berry Gordy’s story will feature 50 Motown classics, with some whittled down to two-minute versions
A Motown musical telling the story of Berry Gordy, founder of the legendary label, will be the next jukebox production seeking to become a West End smash – if the producers can squeeze in all of the company’s hits.
Motown: The Musical, which opens at the Shaftesbury Theatre next February, aims to shoehorn a soundtrack featuring Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations and more, into a two hour show.
The musical is set to feature 50 Motown hits but some have been whittled down to two minute versions or compressed into medleys.
Classic Motown favourites have been junked because they don’t advance the storyline, which follows Detroit entrepreneur Gordy, who starts Motown with a $800 family loan at the dawn of the 60s and creates the “sound of Young America” by adopting the factory production line techniques he learned working in the city’s auto industry.
The show, which has been “tweaked” following a Tony award-nominated Broadway run, details Gordy’s tumultuous romantic relationship with Ross, the aspiring singer whom he mentored and went on to become a global star.
“When the Supremes first came in I thought the lead singer had some nerve,” Gordy, 85, said during a visit to London. “She felt she was a star. She had a dream and they were very determined.”
Gordy said the girl group were called the “no-hit Supremes” within the company after a run of flops which ended when Where Did Our Love Go topped the charts and broke the group in Europe.
Motown’s crucial role in bringing white and black audiences together during a period of deep-seated racial strife will be told in the story. Gordy said: “My first problem was getting white disc jockeys to play black music. I told them ‘My music is for the whole human race.’ They said: ‘Well my human race is white, take it to black radio stations.'”
Gordy said the Tamla-Motown review tour of 1965, which came to Britain, was the first time he appreciated the impact Motown’s music having globally.
“In Britain we had the ‘white sheet kids’. We were getting play on pirate stations like Radio Luxembourg and we bought time on the ships to play 3 of our records. The kids used to listen to the pirate stations under their bedsheets in little transistor radios.
“Then they’d go to school and start their own groups or clubs. The white sheet kids promoted us wonderfully. That’s why I’m thrilled to be doing the show in London.”
A British cast has been assembled for the London transfer, which will test the pockets of theatre-goers with the best stalls seats priced at £120.
Gordy said Motown’s success was due to his philosophy that “competition breeds champions” – he pitted artists and songwriters against each other to come up with the biggest hits.
But the show also chronicles the label’s struggles, with Gordy shown being mired in legal problems in the early 80s and Motown’s founder feeling betrayed by the stars he created.