The lead actors in Motown The Musical, currently playing at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin, have said that the show is a celebration of the legendary music of the time but also tells the story of the huge social changes of the 1960s.
The show features a cast of 30, a full band, and a 12-strong orchestra playing 50 Motown tracks, including I’ll Be There, Dancing In The Street, Stop! In The Name of Love, My Girl and I Heard It through the Grapevine.
Speaking to RTÉ Entertainment, Edward Baruwa, who plays Motown mastermind Berry Gordy, said: "We have Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye portrayed in the show and there is a lot of Gordy’s relationship with Marvin because their relationship was quite erratic.
"They loved each other very much but they did have fights over music and the way Marvin wanted to dress but in regard to the Civil Rights movement and how the world was changing so quickly Marvin was one of the few artists who wanted to write about that.
"Berry Gordy’s aim was to make people happy and to unify people but against the backdrop of Civil Rights, Marvin wanted to take that someone else and in the show you see how they fall out over such issues."
At the age of 29, Detroit-born Gordy founded Tamla Records with an $800 loan from his family’s savings and later renamed the imprint Motown as a tribute to the city’s automobile industry. The label would go on to become The Sound of Young America and produce some of the most memorable songs of the sixties and beyond.
Motown The Musical is based on Gordy’s 1994 book To Be Loved and the music boss, who is now 89 and still very active, was heavily involved in the production. "I was fortunate enough to be part of the original London company when it first opened so we got to meet him then," said Edward.
"Very astute, very charming man and also very, very hands on. He is also a perfectionist which I suppose is how he became so successful. He would never let anything go before he thought it was absolutely perfect before it was released and his back catalogue is testament to that."
"The musical is based on his book and there’s a lot of story to be told so he was very much there in the early days of the production to explain some points. For example you see Diana Ross’ relationship with Berry Gordy flourish but it’s not all plain sailing.
"You see us having massive arguments backstage in dressing rooms so he was very good at giving us an idea of what was happening at the time. He was very hands on and he knows the sound of Motown better than anyone else."
Speaking about playing Diana Ross in the show, Karis Anderson said, "The main thing for me was not to copy but bring the essence of Diana and the essence of Karis into the Diana role. I’m not Diana Ross, I don’t sound like Diana Ross, I don’t look like Diana Ross so it was a case of finding the Karis in Diana. A mixture, a happy medium. Hahahaha"
Motown the Musical is at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin until February 23rd.