A conversation with Charles Randolph-Wright is to experience a tsunami of energy on Black culture and Black theater, and there is a special surge of ebullience when he talks about his current project—director of the soon to be previewed Motown—The Musical.
“Working with Berry Gordy is simply amazing,” he said during a recent phone interview, taking time away from rehearsals. “To be working with a Black man in control is like a dream come true. He is someone I’ve idolized and he’s given me permission to dream.”
The symbiosis between Gordy, the mogul of Motown, and Randolph-Wright, a native of North Carolina with an enviable track record on and off Broadway, including directing Ruined, began a few years ago when the project finally got off the shelf. A number of directors were seeking the job but, like the man he admires, Randolph-Wright showed up for the interview and took charge.
“I told Berry that I am the man for the job, and nobody can do it better,” Randolph-Wright chuckled. It was bravado and self-confidence that obviously appealed to Gordy, who wrote the musical. That kind of audacity perhaps reminded him of his daring moves when he first started Motown back in the late fifties.
Randolph-Wright said the musical will mainly focus on the sixties and seventies, beginning in the eighties and then through a series of flashbacks cover the glorious era in which Motown and its roster of immortals helped to create the soundtrack for a generation.
“I know everybody has his or her version of the Motown story, but this one belongs to Berry,” he explained, “and you’ll hear all the music that was so instrumental in defining the period, the civil rights movement, and our journey because Berry’s story is, in effect, our story.”
One of the challenges Randolph-Wright said he faced was deciding on what songs to use. At one time the musical had more than 100 songs. “But that’s been narrowed down considerably now,” he said. Even so, he continued, Motown’s biggest hits will be staged.
He said that there will be actual performances of the songs by some of the most talented young people in the business. “Berry has signed off on this and approved the production and the performers,” Randolph-Wright said. “On balance, there’s something there for everyone, lots of room for memories.”
Motown—The Musical stars Tony Award Nominee Brandon Victor Dixon as Gordy. Valisia Lekae of Ragtime and The Book of Mormon will portray Diana Ross and Charl Brown, who had a feature role in Jersey Boys and Sister Act, has the role of Smokey Robinson. According to Randolph-Wright many of the other prominent Motown people will also appear, including portrayals of Maxine Powell, who groomed the girls and Cholly Atkins who taught them how move on the stage.
You might want to take the advice of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and “Come and Get These Memories.”
The previews arrive on Broadway on March 11 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, and opens officially on April 14.