Happy Memorial Day weekend MMT Fam! A few years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Motown founder and legend Berry Gordy, and his best friend the legendary singer/songwriter Smokey Robinson, and to say that I had a fan girl/out of time/space experience was an understatement! The only words I could speak, after Mr. Robinson decided to walk up to me and plant a kiss on my right cheek, were “Can we take a picture?” And he graciously obliged. I was a bit more articulate with Mr. Gordy after the event, which honored Gordy with the prestigious Marian Anderson award, and was able to state how much I adored him as a child and still to this day.
So, although it was a disappointment to me that both the screening of a movie that I’ve awaited forever – “Wonder Woman” – and a musical telling the story of Mr. Gordy and his founding of Hitsville, U.S.A. were on the same night, I really had no problem choosing the latter – “Motown the Musical.”
The musical, which broke Philly box office records back in 2015, returns for a two-week engagement starting this Tuesday, May 30.
Earlier last week, I chatted briefly with Chester Gregory, who is reprising the role of Berry Gordy after portraying him on Broadway last year, and he gave some insight into his experience with the production and his interactions with Mr. Gordy. Gregory’s Broadway credits also include Hairspray, Tarzan, Cry-Baby and Sister Act, and he has toured nationally performing in Dreamgirls and his one-man show The Eve of Jackie Wilson.
Let me start by saying I am a Motown “fiend!” I’ve met both Mr. Gordy and Mr. Smokey Robinson and went straight into fan girl mode. How much interaction have you had with Mr. Gordy, or any artist related to Motown, and what was the best piece of advice you were given by them?
“I am honored to say that I’ve had a lot of interaction with Mr. Gordy. He is very involved in our production, making refinements as he sees fit. Much like he did with actual Motown artists of that era. One thing I have learned is to never look down on your accomplishments. Keep them high and you will always be grateful for them.”
You’ve portrayed Mr. Gordy, who’s arguably a genius in the music industry, on Broadway and now this touring production . How much research did you do for the role, and was it intimidating to have him involved in the project?
“I have studied Mr. Gordy for several years. Honestly, it is a dream that manifests itself daily and, strangely enough, it’s not intimidating. I want to learn all I can from him so, when he gives notes, I aim to tap into his mindset and make sure I deliver that intention. As an actor, I’m excited to get notes – they can add depth to the work!”
Now, the MMT signature question is typically – If you could portray any artist, past or present any genre, on the big screen, who would it be and why. But I also know you’ve portrayed Jackie Wilson on stage. So, if there’s a different answer I certainly welcome it, but would also ask if it was a big screen biopic – what else would you bring to Mr. Wilson’s story that you couldn’t do with the musical/stage play?
“You are 100% right! It has been a dream of mine to portray Jackie Wilson on the big screen, and that is because film captures a moment forever, for future generations to see.”
In addition to acting and singing, Mr. Gregory is a songwriter and producer. You can follow him on social media @ChesterGregory and learn more about his work, and that Jackie Wilson stage production “The Eve of Jackie Wilson,” at chestergregory.com.
Now for the even better part! Want to win a pair of tickets to the show for Thursday, June 1 on Broadway Philadelphia? You must be subscribed to this website and send an email to email@example.com with the subject line “Motown” and describing your favorite Motown memory/song in the body. One winner will be selected and notified on Tuesday, May 30.
“Motown the Musical” opens on Broadway Philadelphia at the Academy of Music on Tuesday, May 30 and runs through Sunday, June 11. Tickets and additional information are available at kimmelcenter.org.