- 05 Feb 19
Telling the brilliantly compelling story of the era-defining record company, Motown The Musical is a wonderfully invigorating theatrical experience. Producer Adam Spiegel talks to Pat Carty about the challenges of bringing the iconic label's tale to stage.
A fine conversation starter for the barroom table, or any table for that matter, is to offer a nomination for the greatest record company of them all, though such institutions are all too quickly becoming relics of the past. I would personally nod at Chess Records, Stax, Trojan, Atlantic or Island. Others of a different bent might plump for Factory, Stiff, Interscope, Blue Note, Def Jam, or a myriad of alternatives. One name that will always be near the top of such useless yet crucial talk is that of Motown Records – The Sound Of Young America.
Almost as important as the music is the story behind the label, which just celebrated its sixtieth anniversary. Nascent songwriter Berry Gordy quickly realises where the real money is and forms Tamla Records in 1959. The label morphs into Motown Records, the name an amalgamation of Motor Town, the nickname Detroit had earned thanks to its many automobile production lines, an approach Berry would adopt when he established Hitsville, U.S.A. – the studio at 2648, West Grand Boulevard, Detroit. Hit after glorious hit came off the belts, from Barrett Strong’s statement of intent, ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ to solid gold masterpieces from Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and many, many others.
The label’s rich history is celebrated in Motown: The Musical. Produced in close association with Berry himself, the show attempts the gargantuan task of condensing this immortal story into a few short hours’ spectacle. Hot Press was lucky enough to sit down with producer Adam Spiegel, a man who’s previously worked on everything from Shirley Valentine to Saturday Night Fever, before a preview of the show in London’s Shaftesbury Theatre, where they’ve been knocking out musicals since 1911. One presumes that he’s a massive Motown fan first and foremost?