There is nothing that quite gets the heart skipping, fingers clicking and the feet tapping like the classic sound of Motown.

It may have been 60 years since the iconic record label was founded in Detroit by the iconic record executive and producer Berry Gordy, but that soulful brand of pop still sounds fresh, urgent and life-affirming. It touches the heart and soul like nothing else.

So what better show to stage over the festive and New year period than a production that tells the story of the legendary label which launched the careers of Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and the Jackson 5 among many others.

Now the story of Motown Records success, and the phenomenal amount of hits it produced, is told in Motown The Musical, which has left the West End and decamped to the New Theatre, Oxford.

The musical has been put together with the help of creative consultant Michael Lovesmith. Michael worked with Berry Gordy, coaching the Jackson 5, and producing the likes of The Temptations and The Supremes as well as performing himself. His input along with director Charles Randolph-Wright’s vision gives the production its extraordinary momentum, energy and ring of truth as documentary.

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“I was basically born and raised in music,” says Michael. “I was on the road as a child, singing in churches as a trio with my brothers. Then at age 11 I was introduced to Holland-Dozier-Holland, who signed me to a song writing contract, and I wrote my first song for them, to be performed by Dionne Warwick.”

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Charles interjects, laughing: “At age 11! I just want to make sure that’s clear, you were 11!”

Michael continues: “It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and it was a good thing I had a good song! I met Mr Gordy at age17, and by that time I had produced about 12 artists.

“Motown wanted me to work with the Jackson 5. I was their age, so I could relate to them in a way that not everybody could. They were so used to working with older people who didn’t quite understand their energy. I ended up becoming Berry Gordy’s protégé, and started producing and vocal coaching Michael and his brothers. Then soon after that I started recording with The Supremes and The Temptations. That’s pretty much how I got started.”

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Charles joined the Motown family much later, coming on board to direct Motown The Musical which premiered on Broadway in 2013. “For me Motown has always been part of my life,” he says. “The opportunity to work with Mr Gordy was mind-blowing when this project came up because he was and is a major inspiration to me.

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“In terms of how I got started in directing, my family says that I was directing from the minute I was walking,” he continues. “Theatre fascinated me from my very first experience in the audience. But even as a performer, I always was intrigued by directing and writing. I was in the original cast of Dreamgirls on Broadway and directed a fellow performer’s nightclub act. That lead to several other acts, and more jobs followed. I knew then that would be my focus.”

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The Musical tells the story of Mr Gordy’s life and the development of Motown Records in Detroit, Michigan which soon became known as Hitsville USA. What was it like for Michael being at the epicentre of the Motown movement at the time?

“I was desperate to get to Detroit and get working in music but my parents wanted me to get through school, so I studied and studied so I could graduate from high school early and from there I went straight to Detroit,” Michael explains.

“The funny thing about Motown is, I think Motown could have been anywhere, and in a sense it was.”

Charles adds: “Absolutely. Every city had a girl group, a guy group, a kids’ group and a lead singer but the unique thing that Detroit had was Berry Gordy.”

“He was this beacon of light,” concurs Michael, “showing you what you can do and what you could be. There were musicians and singers all over the country, but Detroit had Berry Gordy so it became a magnet for them.”

Charles says that then informed his direction for the musical, “Of course, that’s what we are able to explore in the show, how Mr Gordy’s ambition and talent founded Motown,” he says. “It’s not a Detroit sound, it’s a Motown sound. Although some people think Motown is a real place!”

Michael laughs: “You know what though, it almost was.”

With such an iconic sound, how does one begin the process of faithfully recreating that on stage? Michael smiles. “We searched high and low for someone who understands the need for the show to sound like Motown,” he says.

“One person came to meet us, and gave us his idea of how he would find a Stevie Wonder, a Michael Jackson, a Smokey Robinson, which we didn’t think was possible, and that person was Charles Randolph-Wright. Charles walked into the room and knew what Motown is, who Motown is and what Motown looks and feels like. He grew up on this music. He understood Motown, and that is what we were looking for. We put the show in his hands.”

Charles agrees: “Motown is all we ever really listened to growing up. What has surprised me the most with audiences is that Motown appeals to every age. I love that each audience member finds some aspect of this show that resonates with them. The show is infectious. It’s not just a record label, it’s not just a show, it’s a movement.

Michael adds: “And we owed it to the UK. The UK is probably 50 per cent responsible for the success of Motown, it is the heart of Motown and the UK has kept Motown alive. The vibe here is fantastic, audiences are screaming and cheering and it’s incredible.

“It’s like being back in one of the shows from the 70s!”

“The UK has always loved Motown, and we needed to do this tour because we know wherever we take Motown The Musical in the UK, it will be loved.”

  • Motown the Musical is at the New Theatre Oxford until January 4.
  • Tickets from