Detroit, Metro Detroit
Hit musical ‘Motown’ returns to where it all began
Gabriella Whiting plays Florence Ballard, Allison Semmes is Diana Ross and Tavia Riveé portrays Mary Wilson — aka the Supremes — in “Motown the Musical.”
Posted April 12, 2017
DETROIT — Growing up in Lansing, Oakland University graduate Devin L. Price remembers singing along to Motown classics on the radio.
“I would ride in my grandparents’ car and listen to the soul station,” recalled Price by phone from Indianapolis.
So, being in the cast of “Motown the Musical” — which is being produced at Detroit’s Fisher Theatre April 18-30 — is as exciting for Price as it is for his extended family, including his grandparents, who’ll be driving into town to see him in the show. Price and fellow Michigander Louis James Jackson, who grew up in Detroit and Southfield and graduated from Grand Valley State University, are in the ensemble, but both play prominent roles in the show, which traces the rise of Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. and the young musicians — including Diana Ross of the Supremes, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder — who would become Motown megastars.
Gordy is one of the producers of the show, which features more than 40 beloved hits, including “My Girl” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Besides the music, the show also captures the role Motown Records played in breaking down racial barriers, as music became a universal soundtrack to unite people during a time of division.
Price and Jackson, who both live in New York City, started rehearsals in December and have been on the road since they opened the tour the first week in January in Las Vegas.
This is Price’s first big tour playing near his hometown, and besides family, he said many of his college friends are planning on attending. He remembers seeing the Commodores play the Common Ground music festival in Lansing with his grandparents when he was only about 7 or 8 years old, and he said his grandmother used to take him to see shows at the Wharton Center in East Lansing. He’s been to shows at the Fisher too, but this will be the first time he’s performed there.
“It’s going to be surreal to be in a theater that I was in the audience of,” Price said. “I’m going to have a moment.”
Price has been to the Motown Museum, but he’s looking forward to returning there with some of his castmates.
Jackson, who declined to give his age, has been a competitive dancer since he was 10 and has been touring as a dancer since he was 18 — and he even appeared as a tap dancer in a Channel 4 “Go 4 It” promotional commercial when he was 12. His parents, who now live in Lathrup Village, are among the many relatives and friends eager to see him on the iconic Fisher stage.
“I’ve done a lot of international performances, but this will be my first big show back home,” Jackson said.
Like Price, he grew up listening to Motown.
“Motown’s been a part of my life my entire history,” Jackson said. “It was the music my family danced to. You hear it everywhere you go. It’s part of our American history. Through the music — through these lyrics — (the artists) were the voice of the people. (The music) allowed people to connect with one another.”
The actors in “Motown the Musical” play multiple roles. Price’s characters include Eddie Kendricks of the Temptations and Junior Walker, while Jackson plays Paul Williams of the Temptations, Sylvester Potts of the Contours and Eddie Holland of the songwriting trio of Holland-Dozier-Holland — which included brothers Eddie and Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier.
“Nobody is in the background in this show,” Jackson said.
The tour runs until August, and both actors say this has been a special experience for them.
“This show has changed my whole view of performing,” Price said. “We all just come together. We encourage each other. We compliment each other. It’s my first big tour, and it’s going to be hard to follow up.”
They said “Motowm” embodies a “legacy of love” and brings joy to everyone in the theater. Like the music it celebrates, “Motown the Musical” is unifying people.
“We have audience participation, and you see these people who don’t know each other, who don’t look like each other, holding hands,” Price said. “We all have different experiences. We may not look the same, but the power of music can heal.”
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Lathrup Village / Southfield