Motown: The Musical tells the story of Berry Gordy’s quest to unify America’s music industry
Nearly 58-years-ago, Detroit’s Berry Gordy Jr. decided to hang up his boxing gloves and produce a few records, and the music world was never the same. He went on to create the Motown record label, which produced powerhouse artists such as The Miracles, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder—the list goes on.
In 2013, Gordy and Motown’s story was turned into a musical that features more than 60 hits from the era.
“This musical tells the story of Berry Gordy and his journey of starting as a featherweight boxer and becoming a heavyweight music mogul,” says Quiana Holmes, who plays Mary Wilson and understudies the character of Diana Ross, both of The Supremes. “He [Gordy] transformed the artistry and careers of so many musicians and this shows how he kind of created the soundtrack of America.”
Motown played a pivotal role in the racial integration of pop music in the ‘60s. Black artists in America with a talent now had an African-American-owned record label to pursue their dreams.
“One of the most beautiful scenes in the musical is when Berry Gordy says ‘Look, I want to create music for all people no matter their colour,’” Holmes says. “He was knocked down many times and people said nobody wants your ‘Race music.’”
Instead of giving up, Gordy persevered with his vision and helped create music for everyone. And it seemed to work. For many years, Motown was one of the most successful and profitable record labels, with 79 records in the Billboard Top 100.
During the early ‘60s The Supremes dominated the singles charts with songs like “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Baby Love,” and “I Want a Guy.” They rivaled the rampant Beatlemania that was taking America by storm and became the country’s most successful female vocalist group to date, and it was all thanks to musicians like Gordy.
“In order to fully become our individual characters we had to do the research,” Holmes says. “We know that The Supremes came to Berry Gordy and they were very excited and willing to work and do anything to just get into the music light.”
Being in a Broadway musical is a dream come true for Holmes. She remembers first hearing the music of Motown as a kid and eventually went on to attend the Berklee College of Music for vocal and theory lessons.
Perhaps her favourite memory of being apart of the musical was when the cast actually met Gordy and he told them the whole story.
“In September he came to rehearsals and really put us back in the moment,” she says. “He remembers so much about the origin of Motown. So we travelled back in time with him to those times he met Diana Ross or Smokey Robinson. It was amazing to hear the story from the man who created Motown and it’s amazing to portray his story.”
The musical might have more than 60 songs, but Holmes’ favourite has to be when the full cast sings Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” in unison.
“Marvin comes out when everything is in chaos on stage and everyone is looking for hope in this chaos that America is bringing us,” she says. “When we sing that song there is something that rattles in our hearts and the audience listens. Everybody needs to see that scene and hear that message.”
Tue., Feb. 13 – Sun., Feb. 18
Motown: the Musical
Northern Alberta Jubilee