Bringing Motown: The Musical to San Francisco.
The Temptations from Motown: The Musical.
On June 3, my coworker Kirstie A. Martinelli and I headed into San Francisco for the press preview event for Motown: The Musical at the Orpheum Theatre. This Broadway musical based off the Motown music catalogue and about the life of the legendary Berry Gordy. This was my first press event at Marin Magazine and since it was a Motown (one of my favorite genres of music) event, I was beyond ecstatic.
When you hear the word 'Motown' it's hard not to think of the intro bass guitar riff from The Jackson's "I Want You Back", or the sensational "I Heard It (Through the Grapevine)" by Marvin Gaye, or even the catchy trumpet intro for "Dancing in the Streets" by Martha Reeves & The Vandellas. The smooth dance moves of the tempting Temptations and wondrous piano playing of Little Stevie Wonder only begin to truly define Motown.
Heading into the grand Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco for the press preview of Motown: The Musical, Kirstie and I made our way into a one-on-one interview with Broadway theater legends Director Charles Randolph-Wright and Producer Kevin McCollum. With credits including Randolph-Wright’s direction of the record-breaking musical Sophisticated Ladies, and Pulitzer-Prize winning play Ruined, as well as McCollum’s little productions you might have heard of: Rent, In the Heights and Avenue Q, we knew this new show was in good hands.
The overriding theme in both the interview and the show is the ability to achieve great success if one dreams big. The musical is steeped in Berry Gordy’s own personal journey to success by taking risks and dreaming big, and creating an environment in which little-known singers, such as Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross, could also realize their dreams. Mr. Randolph-Wright described growing up in the backwoods of South Carolina, listening to Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech on Berry Gordy’s record. Mr. McCollum added that Berry Gordy’s story inspires him often in his personal life and business decisions. The theme is continued in the show, which is not just a “jukebox musical”. Both the director and producer were enthusiastic about the play reaching people on different levels: on a personal level as a narrative that plays in our heads as we think of our own families and loves, so poignantly expressed on another level through the familiar soundtrack of our own childhood or that of our parents and grandparents.
Motown: The Musical
- San Francisco Orpheum Theater
- August 15 – September 28
- Tickets on sale now
- No children under 5 allowed.
- 2 hours 45 minutes with 15-minute intermission
Here are some excerpts from our 15 minute interview with Kevin McCollum and Charles Randolph-Wright. If you want to find out what else we talked about, be sure to read the full interview.
Leigh Walker (LW): Here's our June issue, one for each of you, where we featured Motown: The Musical in our Summer [Guide] calendar.
Kirstie A Martinelli (KAM): So Marin is just nine miles north from here.
Charles Randolph-Wright (CRW): We know Marin.
Kevin McCollum (KM): He's worked here a lot, I've worked a lot of shows here –– oh good they got the Temps shot.
KAM: Truly amazing. I read about your foundation in South Carolina...
CRW: My family business just turned 100 a couple months ago and it’s been incredible. Working with Mr. Gordy showed me what I can do in my home town. And I talk about it often: it’s opening the door to possibility, giving people permission. I’m from a rural town from SC. We actually went and auditioned in Charlotte and they’ve never had a Broadway audition in Charlotte NC. I literally saw every single person. I’d see them in groups first and then I’d go out and talk to them. I grew up in the woods right down the street. You can’t let geography limit your dream. And to be able to follow that dream. To say that, to do that; that’s what the show’s about. We have that respect and camaraderie.
KM: I think Broadway, and I think this is where Motown is going to thrive, what nobody really understands is Broadway is an international business. Given the net, set and the jet, which we didn’t have when Broadway began, countries like South Korea, Brazil, China even, Russia, they all want the Western musical. People travel to New York, the touring world has grown, which was my first business, which I started off, which is why I know San Francisco so well, is my first business which still exists, was a distribution agency for shows. So, people want the Broadway musical. We can be here for multi weeks. What’s great about Motown, Motown was the first international phenomenon, even more than the Beatles. That’s what I think is so interesting, and why I think Mr. Gordy went into television and film, he understood “I have to get it to the people” and at that time, you actually had to walk it to the DJ, convince him that it wasn’t race music it was music done by black people. It was for the world. Having done Motown I also started to realize that as well – dream big. It keeps going. We could have definitely called the show “Dream Big”.
Brandon Victor Dixon as Berry Gordy & Cast.
CRW: Mr. Gordy wanted it on stage. He could have done this in any medium. It could have been a film, it could have been a mini-series. There’s that thing that happens in a theatre that’s live that doesn’t happen anywhere else. It doesn’t happen in a movie theater. It’s this relationship between the performers and the audience. And that’s what the Motortown Revue did, and went all around the world. Motown is doing that again. And to watch audiences respond to this is – it’s extraordinary.
LW: The first song I ever learned from my dad was My Girl by the Temps.
CRW: And see – that’s exactly what we’re talking about.
KM: He [your dad] was singing it to you and you felt special.
CRW: I love that you’re saying this. There’s a moment in the show. Berry Gordy is falling in love with Diana Ross. It’s happening on My Girl – My Girl is when he’s falling for her but at the same time The Temptations are performing. And what I learned how to do on this show is how to have two stories happen at once. My daughter – I sang this to her when she was three years old – there’s so much there. If it was all story, you wouldn’t have that experience. But if it was no story, you also woudn’t have that experience. We found that balance of how to take that Motown story and the audience’s story and combine them. And they weave.
KAM: What did you not want this musical to be?
KM: It’s the kind of musical, that when you come to see it, it breaks every expectation, even though you think “oh I know Motown music”. I was never worried that we weren’t gonna make it. You know, people were saying it’s a jukebox musical. Yes, it’s a catalogue, but Berry Gordy wrote three original songs for this show that we kind of keep as a secret weapon. So you’re going to hear three new songs that are written purely for this show.