‘Motown the Musical’ comes to the Academy of Music

You never know when the Motown magic will strike, but chances were good that it would happen at the Detroit debut of “Motown the Musical’s” national tour in October.

“The end of our show, we do a thing were we say ‘Stevie’ — meaning the character — ‘Stevie, take them home’ and his song is ‘I Wish,’ “ says Darryl Archibald, musical director and conductor of “Motown”’s national tour. “But the real Stevie Wonder was on stage so someone handed him the mic and he just started singing.”

The audience just went crazy — it was electrifying. I thought to myself I hope someone is filming this!”

“Motown,” which comes to the Academy of Music tomorrow, tells the story of a boxer named Berry Gordy who moved from the ring to a Detroit storefront recording studio, and founded the careers of Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Wonder and other Motown greats.

More than 40 hits are featured in the show, which is still on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre and is up for four Tony awards.

“Mr. Gordy wanted this music to appeal to everybody,” says Archibald, a California native who was hired by Gordy himself. “He took these people, I hate to say it, right off the street corners and he turned them into these icons and these stars. They had dance lessons and etiquette lessons and voice lessons to hone their skills, so they would not only appeal to the black audience but they would also appeal to the white audience.”

“He created these personas,” Archibald continues. “You look at the Supremes at the time — the glamor and the dresses and refinement. They didn’t start out that way.”

Creating the sound

There wasn’t anything like the music of Motown before the hits started to come in the late ‘50s, and there hasn’t been anything since. It’s a merging of pop, R&B, soul, gospel and jazz that has become a genre unto itself and a soundtrack of American life.

“Gordy had an ear for what he thought sounded right or was appealing,” Archibald says. “He was creating this sound as they went along and doing all of these things he thought would make Motown universal. Motown appeals to everybody. Everybody knows Motown.”

‘Motown the Musical’
January 6 to 18
Academy of Music
240 S. Broad St.
$20 to $115.50

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