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Motown alumni feel the love for musical's arrival in Detroit

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Thursday, October 23, 2014

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DETROIT -- During a key scene in "Motown The Musical," Nicholas Christopher's Smokey Robinson tells Clifton Oliver's Berry Gordy, Jr. that Motown alumni "cannot NOT love each other."

And there was love aplenty as the Tony Award-nominated production made its long-awaited opening in Detroit with a gala second night performance on Wednesday (Oct. 22) that brought Gordy, Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Martha Reeves and scores of other Motowners both famous and behind-the-scenes to the Fisher Theatre for an emotional homecoming.

"It feels incredible. It feels full circle," Gordy said while walking a red carpet leading into the Fisher before the show. "It started here. I was born here. I was bred here. I got the energy of Detroit, and all the people in the cast feel that Detroit is somehow magic, and it is."

Show co-producer Kevin McCollum noted that "Detroit is the place we've been waiting for. This is Motown. This is home. We couldn't wait to finally have (the show) open here," while director Charles Randolph-Wright promised that what Detroiters will see during the three-and-a-half week Fisher run will be every bit as good as what was staged on Broadway last year.

"(Gordy) wanted the tour to be just as good as Broadway," Randolph-Wright noted. "That was very important to him."

Gordy added that, "Broadway, of course, was great. I love the show on Broadway, but coming to Detroit for the cast was so magical. They could not wait to get here. They feel it's something in the air. It's something with the people, and I've told them all the stories and they've studied the stories, so Detroit is something special to them."

That was affirmed by cast members as they also walked the red carpet at the Fisher, just a few blocks away from Motown's original Hitsville U.S.A. headquarters. "We've been waiting for Detroit," noted Doug Storm, who plays several roles during the show. "This is my fourth time playing this theater, but there's something extra special playing this show knowing the real things is right down the street."

Elijah Ahmad Lewis, who plays Stevie Wonder, had the additional challenge Wednesday of having the real Wonder sitting in the Fisher seats as he sang "Happy Birthday" and "Signed Sealed Delivered I'm Yours." "I'm scared," said Lewis, who sang "I Wish" with Wonder during Wednesday's curtain call. "But I've been encouraged by the director. I've been given the blessing. I'm doing what I need to, so I hope (Wonder) feels the same way."

There was no question about that; Wonder as in tears several times during Wednesday's performance and told the audience afterwards that "This is very personal to me. There were tears that I shed tonight that were tears of amazement to know that God has blessed me to allow me to be in something, to be a part of history...To know I was so fortunate to meet (Gordy) and...truly, God used him as a vehicle through which I was able to do the things I've done."

Gordy and Wonder both said they were happy to be returning to a Detroit they felt was in comeback mode after a well-publicized bankruptcy that made international news. "I look at the progress of what's happening and I'm amazed," Gordy said. "It's moving right before my eyes. It's moving so great. It's so incredible. The leadership here is just wonderful, and I'm just so proud to be back here. I'd be thrilled if it wasn't as strong as it is, but it's coming back so strong, and I'm so proud of that."

Asked if he'd consider returning, Gordy said, "That's always possible," but Wonder sounded an even stronger note, saying "if the spirit says to me I really need to consider cosign back and living here and running for mayor, I'll do that. It's about bringing the heart back to Detroit, bringing the heart back to Michigan. We cannot allow money or politics to take us backwards to a place that we can never go again. We've got to move forward."

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow acknowledged Wednesday that she spoke earlier in the evening with Gordy about possible future initiatives for the city and state, especially maintaining and growing the presence of the Motown Historical Museum. "We ARE Motown," Stabenow noted. "Cleveland can have the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but we ARE Motown. It's about lifting up our heritage."

The Supremes' Mary Wilson says she was happy the musical's opening in Detroit dovetailed with the 50th anniversary of her group's first hit, "Where Did Our Love Go." "It's a wonderful feeling of accomplishment," she said. "I think all of us at Motown had that feeling. Our music touched the world, and it still has lasted 50-some years. It's a wonderful feeling to know that accomplishment." Robinson, meanwhile, called it "a wonderful, magical night" and said "it's a wonderful feeling" to see his songs as part of a theater musical. "As a songwriter, it's a dream come true," he explained. "I hope my music lives on and on and on and it's in many facets of music and theater from now on. It's wonderful."

Many of the Motown alumni joined the cast on stage for a curtain call on Wednesday, as well as for parties both before and after the performance. Others attending Wednesday's show included Michael Bolton, who sang at a gala celebration on Tuesday night, October 21, at the Roostertail and is making a documentary about Detroit's comeback, Grammy Award-winning songwriter and former Detroit Allee Willis and U.S. Rep. John Conyers.

Motown The Musical runs through Nov. 16 at the Fisher. Call 313-872-1000 or visit www.broadwayindetroit.com

Web Site: www.broadwayindetroit.com

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