By Iride Aparicio

Photos by: Joan Marcus

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Motown  is a “sound.” The plaintive sound of “soul” music with a distinctive “pop” influence. A call-and-response style of singing that was adapted to “Gospel music” later on, but which originated in the African songs.  

The “Motown sound” as it is called, is alive. It has a “heart” whose rhythmic beats are marked by a drum or by a tambourine. It has a “soul,” a melody with a distinctive sound, that is often played in an electric bass guitar. And it "talks" expressing its  “feelings” in simple words that we all understand because suffering and joy are part of the “universal language” of humanity.  Perhaps because of it, the  “Motown Sound ” was the “sound” that  for the first time, made White America listen to the music interpreted by Black musicians. The “Motown sound” vibrates the strings of our hearts 

CLIFTON OLIVER as the adult  GordyThe “sound”  started in Detroit, Michigan, commonly described as “A Motor Town,” or “Motown” for short, because it manufactured cars And it was "heard" in the mind of a young musical composer by  the name of BERRY GORDY  (Left CLIFTON OLIVER as the adult  Gordy)

On January 12, 1959, Gordy founded a record company which he called  “Tamla Records”, (because Tammy, the name he wanted for his company was already in use) and incorporated it as “Motown Record Corporation” on April 4, a year later.

And it was in Motown, where, for the first time, the racial integration of  “popular music” began, when  “pop music” was interpreted by Black musicians, and published with an African American-owned record level in a cross-over that achieved significant success.

The story of its creation  in “MOTOWN the MUSICAL,” starts twenty five years later, with the Anniversary Celebration on its founding that was  broadcasted on a television program that included Motown’s artists.

During the TV program, different groups of Motown’s singers interpret songs such as “I can’t Help Myself,” “Baby I need your Loving,” ‘(I know) I’m Losing You.” And others. The show is followed by a short skit in which Gordy (OLIVER) is complaining that (In spite that between l960 and l969, the MOTOWN labels had 79 records in the Top Ten of Billboard’s l00 record chart)  his best musicians had left him to join bigger recording companies for the money.

(L-r) KRISHA MARCANO,  ALLISON SEMMES and TRISHA JEFFREY as Diana Ross and the Supremes
               (L-r) KRISHA MARCANO,  ALLISON SEMMES and TRISHA JEFFREY as Diana Ross and the Supremes.

Then the musical take us back to 1959, where “Junior,” as young Berry (REED L SHANNON) was called,  tells  Esther Gordy Edwards (ASHLEY TAMAR DAVIS) his oldest sister, that he wants to establish his own recording company to produce music, included his own, under his own level. He convince his sisters to give him their life savings of  $800 dollars to begin “Hitsville U.S.A, his first recording company.     

REED L SHANNON as young Gordy front, and cast
      REED L SHANNON as young Gordy front, and cast

In “MOTOWN THE MUSICAL,” we watch short segments of his life interwoven  in the tapestry of music from the Legendary Motown Catalog used by arrangement with Sony /ATV Music Publishing, among them songs such as  “Please Mr. Postman,” Do You Love me” ‘My girl” His life, shows the audience his ups and downs, his successes and his failures and his  great skills to choose the “right people” and artists  to help him build the company which would ultimately break down barriers and achieve mass-market success.

Yet, “MOTOWN THE MUSICAL” is not only the story of Gordy’s life, because woven in his life’s  tapestry is the history of  the America he lives in: The segregation times, represented by a show of his artists in Chicago with a policeman shouting to them: “Stay in your side, that’s the law” The assassination of President’s Kennedy and his brother Robert, the Civil Rights movement, the Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the repercussions of these incidents in the United States of America.

The show gives the audience a chance to “see” and hear many of the Motown’s artists, among them,Thr Supremes, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder (ELIJAH AHMAD LEWIS) Martha Reeves (PATRICE COVINGTON) The Jackson 5 and many others.

The Jackson 5 with REED L SHANNON center as little Michael
          The Jackson 5 with REED L SHANNON center as little Michael

They are famous now and are performing in different places such as  Pasadena Civic Auditorium, WJBK radio, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Manchester in England, a Paris Hotel, The Hollywood Palace, The Copacabana.

And as we watch Berry’s  success, his failures, his talent, his persistence, his resilience, we also observe the ambitions of his artists, their bickering among themselves, their jealousies, in other words, their lives.


And unifying MOTON THE MUSICAL and perhaps giving it the reason for many of the beautiful love songs that Gordy created, we see who inspired them, which in the musical, is Diana Ross.

And as we watch the stories and listen to the music interpreted by the singers and dancers we, start singing the lyrics along with them, and during the waltz,we join hands with each other in the theatre and sway left and right while sitting down. We even stand up, at times, and dance in front of our seats chapping our hands because “MOTOWN THE MUSICAL”make us happy.

Presented by SHN at the Orpheum Theatre in S.F. as the opening show of its 2014-2015 season, MOTOWN THE MUSICAL, is based on the book “To Be Loved, The Music, The Magic, The Memories of Motown by BERRY GORDY” and is the story of his life. The choreography by PATRICIA WILCOX and WARREN ADAMS and the direction of CHARLES RANDOLPH WRIGHT, made the the musical, masterful. 

On August 22, the press opening night, the real Mr. BERRY GORDY, who had come to California to celebrate the BERRY GORDY DAY (August 18) a day named in his honor in Oakland, California, appeared on the stage to greet the audience and even joined the cast dancing during their closing number.  He was received with an standing ovation. Addressing those present in the theatre from the stage, Mr. GORDY said, that all he wanted to do with his music, when he created it, was to make people happy. We can add that he accomplished his purpose on that night. Everybody was smiling.

MOTOWN will play at the Orpheum theatre in S.F. until September 28, for tickets and information go to or call 888-746-1799