Memories key to ‘Motown The Musical’s’ success 

click to enlarge Mowtown The Musical
  • COURTESY JOAN MARCUS
  • “Mowtown The Musical,” which tells the story of how Berry Gordy started the iconic music label from Detroit, comes to San Francisco.
Big-time Broadway producer Kevin McCollum laughs when he’s asked why it took so long for “Motown The Musical” to come to the stage.

He simply had to wait until Motown founder Berry Gordy wanted to tell his story in his own way — and that took years.

The show, opening Friday at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco, is based on Berry Gordy’s remarkably rosy 1994 autobiography “To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown.”

“Memories” is the operative word for both McCollum, a Tony Award-winner for “In The Heights,” “Avenue Q” and “Rent,” and director Charles Randolph-Wright, who visited The City a few months ago for a glitzy Bay Area media preview.

Both say the show isn’t simply about how Gordy established, nurtured and made talented black musicians from Detroit like Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson into international superstars. It’s also about the personal stories the audience would relive as they heard the hit songs (again) live onstage.

“I knew that while taking them on this extraordinary journey of a man who changed the world with his music, we had to leave room for their memories,” says Randolph-Wright, whose directing credits include “Sophisticated Ladies” and “Porgy and Bess.” He adds, “Choosing songs from the mammoth catalog seemed impossible, but Berry Gordy’s instincts are astounding.”

For McCollum, the show is about the great soul hits, and much more. “It’s an American story,” he says, about how Gordy revolutionized culture, and mainstream America, through songs.

In addition to the megahits, “Motown The Musical” also includes some slightly lesser known songs, such as Gordy’s first songwriting success, Jackie Wilson’s bopping “Reet Petite,” and “To Be Loved,” a tune a vulnerable Gordy wrote after his first wife left him.

Audiences may not know that Gordy tried boxing before he seriously turned to music, and, how, as a sometimes insecure young man, he used music to meet girls. And although it has taken decades for Gordy to bring his story to the stage, McCollum says, “It’s time for this. It’s time to come together. Art is what heals us.”

IF YOU GO

Motown The Musical

Presented by SHN

Where: Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., S.F.

When: Opens Friday, 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Sept. 28

Tickets: $40 to $210

Contact: (888) 746-1799, www.shnsf.com

About The Author

Leslie Katz

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Wednesday, Dec 17, 2014

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