PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Motown: The Starmaker and His Galaxy

By Harry Haun
15 Apr 2013

Ryan Shaw
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Saycon Sengbloh, the female lead in Fela!, shines in this show primarily as a dancer. "'Dancing in the Street' is such a huge number that I get to do," she noted. "The way they've made such a big number of the song, it's like 'Dancing in the Street'-on-steroids. And to play Martha Reeves of the Vandellas is like a dream come true."

The grown-up Stevie Wonder is played by Ryan Shaw, who met his counterpart three days ago. "It was awesome. When Stevie gave me his blessing, the pressure was off."

A sparkplug fireball named Raymond Luke Jr. put over the young Stevie Wonder, and the young Michael Jackson.

You'll find no mention of him in the Playbill, but Gordy's secret script consultant was Dick Scanlon. "I worked with Berry on helping him shape the story he wanted to tell in the way that it could be told in two hours and 40 minutes on the stage," he explained. "I gave him whatever information I had about the theatre, and I've been a big Motown fanatic since I was a small child. I walked in really knowing the repertory and the story. I've read many books on it…so I just helped find a way to theatricalize it. He is the most collaborative, generous, hard-working person I've ever worked with. You can be completely honest with him. He only wanted the truth and he wants it to be great on stage. Berry is someone we all should aspire to."

David Korins' sets and Natasha Katz's lighting give this musical cavalcade the sweep of an epic—and costume designer ESosa whipped up 450 costumes and 150 wigs for the outing. "This was like a once-in-a-lifetime experience for any designer," Esosa contended. "Motown was more than just music. Motown was a cultural revolution that included fashion. Motown changed the way people dressed, and I definitely wanted that to be a part of the show. That's my contribution to the show."

Producer-director George Schlatter's contribution was to push the Motown sound deeper into the national consciousness via television. "We did the first Diana Ross Motown special in 1968," he remembered, and we have been working with Berry and the group ever since then. That's why tonight is really, really exciting. He's bringing something to Broadway they haven't seen. He changed show business. He changed all the music business. Now, he's going to change Broadway."

Sting returned to the Lunt-Fontanne, the scene of his 1989 Threepenny Opera. The house was further star-stuffed with Nona Hendryx, Glenn Close, Edward Holland Jr., Gayle King, Lamont Dozier, Brian d'Arcy James and Jennifer Prescott, Valerie Simpson, Mary Hart, Mark Kudisch and Shannon Lewis, Melba Moore, Claudette Robinson, Clive Davis, Red Foo, Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen, Courtney B. Vance, Warren Adams, Norm Lewis, Debbie Allen, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Allyson Tucker, Patricia Wilcox, Rosanna Arquette, La Chanze, Daniel Breaker and Kate Whoriskey, Bono, Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb, A.J. Calloway, Jadagrace, Julie Chen and Les Moonves, Lindsay Mendez, Tom Kitt, Jesse Jackson, Epatha Merkerson, Thalia and Tommy Mottola, Jane Fonda and Richard Perry, L.A. Reid, Cuba Godding Jr. and Vanessa Williams, Lesli Margherita, Lucian Grainge, Adriane Lenox, Evander Holyfield, Walter Bobbie, Star Jones, Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Doug Morris, Orfeh and Andy Karl, Christiane Noll and Jamie Laverdiere, Michael Berresse, Judy Craymer, Howard Stringer, Spike Lee, Vince Oddo and Lauren Lim Jackson.

Deborah Cox arrived late, after her Jekyll and Hyde, identifying herself as a friend of Charles Randolph-Wright, the show's director.

Watch highlights from Motown here!