'Motown the Musical' brings all the best to the Benedum Center
A jukebox full of classic songs, an American success story and a lineup recalling some of the best artists in the music business are the main ingredients of “Motown the Musical,” on stage Nov. 21-26 at The Benedum Center, Pittsburgh.
Here are 10 facts about the hit Broadway musical produced by Work Light Productions, in town for seven performances as part of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's PNC Broadway In Pittsburgh series.
1. Many of the heavy hitters of Motown in the 1960s and '70s – Lionel Richie, Smokey Robinson, Brian Holland, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and more – are showcased in performances of the hits they made famous, songs like “Shop Around,” “Stop in the Name of Love,” “My Girl” and “Ain't No Mountain High Enough.” More than 60 songs comprise the show's score.
2. The musical recounts the story of Motown founder and producer Berry Gordy Jr.'s climb to the top of the industry after choosing music over his first love — boxing.
3. When it was produced, the musical was so jam-packed with Motown hits that the show's running time of 2 ½ hours had to be cut by trimming the length of the musical selections.
4. “Motown the Musical” is based on Gordy's autobiography, “To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown.”
5. In his book, Gordy acknowledged his romantic involvement with song stylist Diana Ross and said he ended his relationship with the love of his life “by mutual agreement so we could focus completely on the professional one,” according to a review in the Chicago Tribune when it first came out in 1994.
6. His book also recounts the sale of Motown to MCA and Boston Ventures for $61 million in 1988, with Gordy noting that “I, who had prided myself on always being ahead of the game, had fallen behind. Selling wasn't just the right thing to do; it was the only thing to do.”
7. Also in his autobiography, Gordy recalls his daughter Hazel's teenage infatuation – and eventual marriage – with Jermaine Jackson of the Jackson 5. “This was my 15-year-old daughter, my baby, my first-born, madly in love with an image I was responsible for creating,” he wrote.
8. When Gordy wrote the book for the musical, the New York Times noted that his recollections of the era and the artists he discovered “form the shaky scaffolding for a musical that is, if nothing else, an efficient endorphin-delivery system for baby boomers.”
9. “Motown the Musical” was commended by the Times for taking readers on a “joy ride through the Motor City of the late 1960s and '70s ... by a cast of gifted singers impersonating this crowded pantheon of pop-chart immortals.”
10. The jukebox musical premiered in 2013 on Broadway, where it returned in July 2016 for a limited encore engagement. A production of the show currently is playing at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London's West End with bookings through January, 2019, according to the theater.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.