Monday, May 20, 2024

Motown Musical Will Be Fun, But Not Factual


“Motown: The Musical” is wending its way toward us inexorably. A couple of weeks ago the producers of the show invited group theater bookers and advertisers to come see a little bit of the show. Berry Gordy, Jr., the man who invented Motown more than 50 years ago, trotted out Smokey Robinson, his friend and Motown legend. Aretha Franklin came because she’s from Detroit. She was not on Motown and had nothing to do with it. (Aretha, of course, was an Atlantic artist.) Gayle King and Jesse Jackson were among the guests.

But guess what? It’s no surprise that “Motown: the Musical” bears little resemblance to Motown, the actual story. For that you should read, if you can find it, Gerri Hershey’s seminal book, “Nowhere to Run.” Or Mary Wilson’s memoirs, called “Dreamgirl: My Life as Supreme.”

Those who saw the excerpt and know the history of Motown were a little taken aback. “The story we saw was a love story between Berry Gordy and Diana Ross, set in Paris. They even sing Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s duets to each other, even though Berry can’t sing in real life, and they never recorded those songs.”

It does sound like a lot of dramatic license has been taken to create a book for the musical. And Gordy is the sole credit as author of the book. Well, anyway, we know the music will be great, and that’s all that counts, right?

“I wonder,” says a source who saw the show, “if Diana Ross will ever come see this. I doubt it.”

Indeed, Ross may have some misgivings about all this. After all, when she had her fling with Gordy in Paris, she was married to Bob Silberstein. The result was her eldest child, Rhonda. Ross and Silberstein had two more daughters, Tracee and Chudney, who now by the last name Ross. Rhonda didn’t learn Gordy was her father until she was 13, in 1984.

Gordy has seven other children including his eldest, Hazel, who was married to Jermaine Jackson years ago. His sister, Anna, was famously married to Marvin Gaye until their bitter divorce. That story is told in song on Marvin’s classic album, called “Here, My Dear.” (If you don’t have that album, download it immediately. It’s among Marvin’s finest.)

“Motown: the Musical” is still doing casting sessions, looking for actors to play Smokey, Marvin and a young Michael Jackson.  It doesn’t sound like some of Motown’s finest singers — Levi Stubbs, Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin, or Mary Wells–will be part of this story. But you never know. Here’s the casting link:

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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