As Motown The Musical takes to the stage at the Shaftesbury Theatre, director Charles Randolph-Wright tells us why bringing the hit show, which charts the rise of the world’s most famous record label, to London is something of a homecoming:
Directing Motown The Musical in London is the ultimate homecoming for me. I came to London to study when I was 19 and it literally changed my life. An unexpected door opened for me, a door to an artistic world that I never thought possible. In a way, the same type of thing happened to Motown. When the sound of Motown came to London, an unexpected door opened. Guided by Berry Gordy, those extraordinary artists walked through, and changed the world. Motown is a story about dreams coming true, and London represents an amazing dream for Motown and for me.
I was a teenager from York, South Carolina. Yes, I’m from a place named York, so I was destined to have a British connection. However, my town had less than 5,000 people in it. Living in London was a welcome shock. I met astounding people, from theatre, ballet, opera, television and film to punk rockers, street performers, fashion designers and visual artists. I realised that the young man that arrived here as a pre-med student from Duke University was no longer going to be a doctor. London gave me permission to follow my dreams.
When I was a child, I listened to every single Motown artist. I knew the B-sides of records (and yes, I am old enough to have listened to records). I looked for the writers’ names and the producers’ names, and soon became fascinated by the person behind those artists. There were very few men of colour in the position of Berry Gordy; he had his own company and an unusual and extraordinarily successful vision. I wanted to emulate him. Five years ago when I first received the call to meet with him, I was gobsmacked. Dreams do indeed come true. And these past years working with him have been indescribable.
Now I understand why so many artists evolved from Motown. When someone believes in you even more than you believe in yourself, when someone attempts to give you every possible avenue to succeed, you work beyond what you can imagine. That is the magic of Berry Gordy, the magic of Motown, the magic of Motown The Musical. And now to watch this British company taking the Motown journey, it’s actually quite emotional. So many worlds collide as I watch these astoundingly talented people take the stage.
Many years ago through the artist Nona Hendryx (with whom I’ve had an ongoing collaboration), I met her manager Vicki Wickham. Vicki soon became my “Mum”, and I learned over the years her unique relationship to Motown. She was a producer on the television show Ready, Steady, Go that brought Motown to the UK in The Sound Of Motown TV special. When we did our first reading of the Motown musical I had Vicki come and surprise Mr Gordy, who was stunned to reunite with her. I saw them both go back in time 50 years and celebrate the impact they both had on the world of music. Motown united worlds that seemed disparate but when that music played, we all realised we had far more in common than what was dissimilar.
The world needs this music again. We must come together, and that is the story of Motown The Musical. It’s not just the tremendous Motown catalogue; it is the story of taking chances, chances that change the world. Motown The Musical tells this journey through Berry Gordy’s eyes and ears, and that door that I spoke of earlier also opens for the audience. I want audiences not only to enjoy this show but to be inspired to pursue their dreams and, as Mr. Gordy taught so many, DREAM BIG! Get Ready cause here we come!!
Director – Motown The Musical
Motown The Musical is booking to 22 October at the Shaftesbury Theatre. You can book tickets through us here.