One important thing I gleaned from an early preview performance last night on Broadway of “Motown: The Musical’: Doris Day could have been its first act, way before The Supremes or Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. A young Berry Gordy was writing songs and pitching them to Jackie Wilson — and he actually had some hits like “Reet Petite.” But Gordy really wanted to sell a song to Doris Day. She’s not what you think of when you think Motown. But Gordy wrote a song for her and sent it, naively, to “Doris Day– Hollywood” in what they used to call ‘the mail.’ He didn’t get an answer.
I can’t tell you too much about “Motown” yet because the creators are still tinkering with it. I will tell every seat is sold, and the joint is jumping. They’ve packed at least 60 songs into the show including two written by Gordy for Jackie Wilson, and one or two new songs. But let’s say 57 of them are Motown classics, heard in snippets to full length versions. This is not an easy show to pull off because “Motown” had so many acts, and the acts were groups as well as solos, and they each have separate stories. You do pretty much see or hear everyone who was ever involved with the company, which is amazing.
The show is extremely well cast, from the young lady who plays Diana Ross down to the little boy we saw last night who re-creates little Michael Jackson. The show now — it may change– even has a quick tribute to Rick James. Also, I found it interesting that Gordy, who wrote the book for the show based on his autobiography, can be unsparing about his own failures even while celebrating his many successes.
“Motown” is going to be a monster hit — actually it is already. I can’t wait to see it when it’s all done on April 14th. And yes, there is a “Doris Day” singer who croons that early Gordy tune. Clever.
PS Quite a gang for late theater supper last night at Bar Centrale: Chris Rock and Zack Braff, plus Richard Kind, Bobby Cannavale, and Joey Slotnick after a performance of “The Big Knife.” And everyone’s talking about how good almost all the new shows are. A very solid Broadway season.