“I had always figured that less than one percent of all the people in the world reach their full potential. Seeing that potential in others, I realized that by helping them reach theirs, maybe I could reach mine,” Berry Gordy wrote in his 1994 autobiography. It is certainly true that Hitsville U.S.A. and Gordy's label, the ever-revered Motown, was a vehicle that launched many talents into stardom. Despite criticism of some of Gordy's business practices, Motown's legacy as a whole remains unsullied. Beginning next Tuesday, Feb. 28, at Popejoy Auditorium the touring cast of Motown the Musical will break down the storied history of Motown, a studio that pioneered a new sound and became the most successful business owned and operated by a black man in the United States.
Motown is credited for launching the careers of Smoky Robinson, Diana Ross and The Supremes, The Temptations, The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells, to name a few—musicians whose work still has singular resonance today. Gordy envisioned his work as laying down and distributing the tracks that became “the sound of young America.” And that music, of course, didn't touch just young black people across the Midwest (Motown headquarters being, of course, in Detroit), but the sounds coming out of Hitsville reverberated across communities of many colors, many ages and many regions. As his place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame describes, Berry Gordy “endeavored to reach across the racial divide with music that could touch all people.” Motown was a force then, just as it is now.
Motown the Musical recreates some of the magic of Detroit's glory days and revives the immortals that recorded behind the unassuming walls of Hitsville U.S.A. The talented cast assume the roles of the greats, and in studied performances, deliver their biggest hits with heart-stirring verisimilitude. Gordy is the show's guide through 1960s Detroit, and much of the show is based on what he recorded in his memoir, To Be Loved. All in all, the show walks viewers through more than 50 of Motown's most beloved tunes, often in shortened versions woven through the plot. The show moves through decades of Gordy's life, starting in the ‘80s and then treading backwards, emphasizing the label’s golden era, an approach that evokes a bit of the nostalgia all Motown lovers feel when reflecting on bygone days.
The musical production will stay at Popejoy through Sunday, March 5 before moving on, but will almost certainly provide an avenue back in time for longtime fans of these classic artists, as well as entree for younger audiences through upbeat performance. Not least of all, it is a celebration of what Motown achieved. As Gordy explicated in his book, “I believed it's what's in the grooves that counts. Our music conveyed basic feelings, cutting through cultural and language barriers. … We just put out our music. We worked hard to deliver to people things like joy, love and desire, the emotions that people felt but couldn't always express. We did it for them.” And as such, sitting down for a few hours of the music of Motown is a tonic, too. Tickets are now on sale at popejoypresents.com.