NEW YORK (AP) — The hit musical about Motown Records founder Berry Gordy is coming back to Broadway this summer led by an actor who actually met the music icon long before he won the part to play him.
At a party celebrating the opening of “Motown the Musical” in Los Angeles last summer, Chester Gregory shook hands with the music icon. He kept his cool.
“I just said something simple like, ‘It’s an honor to meet you. Thank you so much.’ I kept it real,” he said. “And then I freaked out with my friends later.”
That impromptu meeting helped when Gregory, whose Broadway credits include roles in “Tarzan,” ”Cry-Baby” and “Sister Act,” auditioned to join the tour playing the role of Gordy months later.
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“It helped me because by the time I had my audition later that year for him, I had already met him so those nerves were gone. I could just focus on the work.”
In addition to Gregory, the Broadway cast will include Allison Semmes as Diana Ross. Original Broadway ensemble cast members Jesse Nager and Jarran Muse will star as Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye, respectively.
The musical tells the story of how the record label rose and fell and then rose again. It returns to New York starting in July for an 18-week stand at the Nederlander Theatre.
The story begins and ends in 1983 — Motown’s 25th anniversary — and travels back in time to show how Gordy helped start the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and many more.
The show first began performances in March 2013 at the Lunt Fontanne Theatre and closed early in 2015 after over 700 performances. In the last three years, the show has earned over $300 million and has gotten tighter.
The musical, directed by Charles Randolph-Wright, has one of the most amazing scores, including “War,” ”Reach Out and Touch,” ”What’s Going On” ”Sign, Sealed, Delivered,” ”My Girl” and “Dancing in the Streets.” The show earned four Tony Award nominations.
“Motown is the greatest catalogue in the world to me. These songs never, ever get old. They’re fresh every single time,” said Gregory from the tour’s stop in Appleton, Wisconsin. He joined the tour at the beginning of the year in Richmond, Virginia.
Gregory, who comes from Gary, Indiana, and grew up loving hometown hero Michael Jackson. He first emerged on the scene in a portrayal of Jackie Wilson in “The Jackie Wilson Story,” which led to his Broadway debut as Seaweed in “Hairspray.” He has performed for Jackson and now playing Gordy fits perfectly in his life and career.
“Michael Jackson was inspired by Jackie Wilson. Then, Jackie Wilson gave Berry Gordy his start as a songwriter and that’s how Berry Gordy started Motown and then found Michael Jackson,” he said. “It’s always been this trifecta for me. So now being Berry Gordy just completes it.”
Follow Mark Kennedy at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/mark-kennedy