Ben Fong-Torres: Broadway’s ‘Motown The Musical’ Thrives on its Songs


by Ben Fong-Torres, Radio Columnist, San Francisco Chronicle 

Sunday, August 10, 2014
  • This March 5, 2013 photo shows Berry Gordy posing for a portrait in New York.  For Berry Gordy, conquering Broadway is the next - and by his own admission, last - major milestone of a magical, musical career. The 83-year-old Motown Records founder is taking his story and that of his legendary label to the Great White Way. "Motown: The Musical," opens for previews Monday. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP) Photo: Charles Sykes, Associated Press
    This March 5, 2013 photo shows Berry Gordy posing for a portrait in New York.

Before he wrote songs and founded Motown Records, Berry Gordy Jr. was a boxer. That was in the late ’40s, when he was a teen in Detroit.

At 83, he’s still got the moves. He can take a jab, he can feint, thrust and punch. Verbally, at least.

The subject is “Motown: The Musical,” which he created and took to Broadway in April 2013, and whose touring company is headed to San Francisco. Near the end of a cordial interview, reviews come up. Almost universally, the musical’s story has been panned, while the music has been praised.

“The musical numbers set the theater on fire,” Time Out said. The New York Times called it “dramatically slapdash but musically vibrant.” Variety also gave it a seesaw review, saying the story lacked “shape, depth, thematic point or dramatic continuity” but that audiences would be pleased, as “this jubilant jukebox musical comes loaded with great singers, tons of energy, and dozens of classic Motown roof-raisers.”

“I’m never happy with mixed reviews,” Gordy said by phone from Los Angeles. “What makes me happy is the response from people who pay the money. They leave the show happy.”

He accepts reviews as “part of the game. I used to teach the artists about reviews. First, I’d look at it and see if it could help you. A lot of them are right.” Shortly after opening night, he addressed his cast. “I said, ‘Lookit. You were phenomenal. And now you know what it’s like to be Berry Gordy!’ ”



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