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'Motown the Musical' set to dazzle San Francisco

'Motown the Musical' opens in San Francisco
'Motown the Musical' opens in San Francisco
Courtesy 'Motown the Musical' - with permission

It’s wowed the critics in New York - “A joy ride! “ (The New York Times), “Stunning!” (AP) and “More than a Broadway show ... a celebration of music that transformed America” (CBS Sunday Morning) - and now Motown the Musical, on its first national tour, is about to scatter its gold dust over San Francisco.

The Motown Sound had its origins in the early 1960s - the brainchild of Berry Gordy Jr, a high-school dropout who had two passions in life - music and boxing. Music finally won the day, and Gordy, at the age of 19, set about writing what would turn out to be a cascade of hit songs which would take the world by storm. In 1959 he established the Tamla recording label in his home city of Detroit, and a year later incorporated it into the Motown Record Corporation - the company taking its title from the name by which America’s motor city was affectionately known.

Motown the Musical is Gordy’s story - one which launched the recording careers of stars who were to become household names, not only in America, but across the world as well - Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and The Temptations.

The 1960s was a decade of huge change - a decade in which social taboos tumbled, and the previously unthinkable became reality - and the Motown Sound easily fell into step with the cultural revolution which swept the globe.

According to the official Motown website, in 1966, 22 Motown singles reached the Top 20 of the American pop charts, three of which reached the No 1 slot, and - uniquely - three-quarters of all Motown releases were placed somewhere in the charts. Between 1961 and 1971, 163 Motown singles reached the pop Top 20, and 28 topped the Pop chart.

These successes were repeated on international charts as well. The sparkling, upbeat sound of Motown caught the attention of the young record-buying public everywhere - if you weren’t swinging to the sound of Motown, well where were you?!

Motown the Musical opens in San Francisco on Friday, August 15, with Berry Gordy in attendance on opening night. The show stars Clifton Oliver as Berry Gordy and Allison Semmes as Diana Ross. Nicholas Christopher plays the role of Smokey Robinson, Jarran Muse is Marvin Gaye, and Leon Outlaw Jr and Reed L Shannon portray Gordy as a youngster, and the young Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder.

The show is directed by multi-award-winning Charles Randolph-Wright who scored a smash hit with the show on Broadway, and whose extensive list of successes includes the 75th anniversary international tour of Porgy and Bess and the 50th anniversary tour of the hit revival Guys and Dolls.

Choreography is by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams - both of whom tied for the 2013 Astaire Award for the Broadway production of Motown - and musical arrangements and orchestrations are by Grammy and Tony Award® nominee Ethan Popp (Rock of Ages) with co-orchestrations and additional arrangements by Tony Award® nominee Bryan Crook (Smash) and dance arrangements by Zane Mark (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels).

Motown the Musical is produced by Tony Award® winning producer Kevin McCollum (Rent, In the Heights, Avenue Q), Doug Morris - Chairman and CEO of SONY Music Entertainment - and Berry Gordy.

The show runs at the SHN Orpheum Theatre from August 15 to September 28. For tickets, visit shnsf.com or call 888-746-1799. Further information can be found on www.MotownTheMusical.com.

A couple of quick notes:

Alameda County has declared Monday, August 18 as ‘Berry Gordy Day in the East Bay’ - and Gordy will attend a celebratory event at City Hall Plaza at 11.30 am. Free and open to the public, the event will feature a selection of numbers from the show performed by members of the cast.

Gordy will also officially launch the ‘Motown Legends’ exhibit - a collection of mixed media pieces by Motown artist Chris Clark, taken from Gordy’s private collection. It includes images of The Temptations, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, and, for the first time, Berry Gordy will allow some of these pieces to be sold. The exhibit is curated by Oakland gallery owner, Joyce Gordon, and pieces will be on display at her gallery on 14th Street, and also at Dorothy King’s landmark restaurant Everett & Jones on Broadway, for six months.