Motown: The Musical tells the story of Berry Gordy, the man who started it all.
Gordy began the Motown Record Corporation in 1959 in Detroit, Michigan.
In that same year he purchased the building that would become Hitsville U.S.A., the first studio of the company that helped launch the careers of artists like Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder.
For many growing up in that era, Motown wasn’t just a record company but a defining sound for a generation.
So much so, that that feeling continues today with performers like Elijah Ahmad Lewis, who plays Stevie Wonder in the touring company of the show.
Lewis took some time to chat with me about the show, and about how Motown has influenced his career choices and life.
So, tell me a bit about the show. What is its message? What is the story it is telling?
To me, the message of the show is passion, faith and love. This show tells the story of how Motown became, and the untold love story of Diana Ross and Berry Gordy. It shows how with passion and faith in what you believe in, and the love for it, that dreams really do come true!
That’s a great message! Aside from Ross, Gordy worked with a number of different artists, many of whom are featured in the show. How do all the stories of the different musicians intertwine throughout the musical?
All the stories of the musicians in the show intertwine by the passion they had for music and how Berry Gordy helped all of them. He had something instilled in all of them; something called “beat the teacher.” He taught them that anything he did, they could do the same or maybe better. And if not, they came real close to it, making them the successful hard working icons they are today!
How has Motown music and culture played a role in your life? How has it shaped you as a performer?
The Motown sound is a soundtrack to my life and I think I can say the same about a lot of people! It definitely had an influence on my performing. One thing about Berry Gordy is he is a perfectionist! So much so, that when he and his artists would play different venues he had a scout from the Motown Company go out and scope the venue and the details so that their performances were nothing but perfection! It definitely had a part in shaping my performance and knowing that nothing beats hard work. For where there is hard work there is greatness!
Who has been the most influential Motown artist in your life far?
One of the most influential Motown artists in my life thus far would have to be Stevie Wonder. Fortunately, I have the honored pleasure to play this iconic musical genius every night! His artistry and creativity was, and still is, out of this world!
You’re a choreographer as well as a singer and dancer. Did you have a hand in helping with any of the choreographing for this show? How is it different being the dancer versus the choreographer?
I am a choreographer! I did not have a hand in this production, but our wonderful choreographers Warren Adams, Patricia Wilcox and assistant choreographer Brian Harlen Brooks are phenomenal. It’s different being on the artist side versus the creative side, however both are great. And it’s wonderful to always see someone else’s vision come to life and to be a part of that creation!
I can imagine it’s fun to see what others come up with. Do you have a favorite song or dance number?
One of my favorite parts in the show would be “Dancing In The Street!” It’s one of two big dance numbers in the show. It’s a fun, energetic number where most, if not all, of the cast is on stage at once. My other would, of course, be “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” which is one of the songs I sing as Stevie Wonder.
An interesting portion of your website I noticed was the #ealtodayichoose. Tell me a bit about that. How did that start? What does it mean to you?
“#ealtodayichoose” is a daily motivator I started back in high school, just now giving it a name. A lot of my friends would talk to me and tell me things they were going through, and it would be natural for me to talk with them and encourage them with what route I would choose if I were in their situation. So, every morning when I would get on the bus I would send out a group text message and make a post on my MySpace page (at the time) on something I would choose to work on that day. For instance, I would post “#ealtodayichoose to TURN UP THE LOVE!” Then I would describe and explain how I would make that my focus on how to keep a positive head through my day when something not planned would arise!