BWW Interviews: MOTOWN THE MUSICAL’s Young MJ Leon Outlaw Jr.

Sources: Broadway World | All Things Michael


Ever wonder what the young actors who play roles in Broadway tours think? Well, Mr. Leon Outlaw Jr. is here to tell you a little about himself in the way only a kid can — straightforward and to the point. At the ripe old age of 12, theatre “vet” Outlaw plays Young Berry Gordy, Young Stevie Wonder and Young Michael Jackson in MOTOWN THE MUSICAL, playing Dec. 16 – 28 at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. At a very young age, Leon began to sing and dance to the amazement of his parents. Inspired by Michael Jackson and James Brown, Leon made his stage debut at age 9.

Tell our readers about your role in MOTOWN THE MUSICAL and what it’s like to play the younger versions of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Berry Gordy.

It is truly an honor playing the roles of these icons. I’m only 12 years old and I get to play my idol Michael Jackson and two living legends. Whenever my act is over I wish there was more for me to do.

Is it more challenging to play an iconic legend? Do you feel more pressure to do them justice on stage?

Yes. Before every show I pray and I say, “Ok MJ, let’s do this!” After the show when fans tell me, “You sound just like Michael Jackson. You made me cry; He would be proud of you.” Then I feel very happy.

What’s your favorite moment and/or song in the show?

I have two; Battle of the stars and when I come out for the Jackson 5 audition. Once the crowd starts to applaud I get pumped up.

What is something that fans who attend the show at Minneapolis’ Orpheum Theatre should watch for that is an “insider’s secret” about the production?

There is a lot going on behind the scenes and a lot of jokes. When I do Lil Stevie Wonder my eyes are really closed under the glasses.

What do you like to tell people that is unique about MOTOWN THE MUSICAL?

What’s unique about Motown is you will be dancing in your seats and you will learn something before you leave; likeMarvin Gaye was Berry Gordy‘s brother in-law.

What’s next for your career? And, what is your dream role that you hope to play in the future?

I’m not sure what God has in store for me but I would love to continue in theater, TV shows, movies and more. I would like to play Berry Gordy/Marvin Gaye.

More information

Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright, MOTOWN THE MUSICAL is the true American dream story of Motown founderBerry Gordy‘s journey from featherweight boxer to the heavyweight music mogul who launched the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and so many more.

Featuring more than 40 classic hits such as “My Girl” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” MOTOWN THE MUSICAL tells the story behind the hits as Diana, Smokey, Berry and the whole Motown family fight against the odds to create the soundtrack of change in America. Motown shattered barriers, shaped our lives and made us all move to the same beat.

Showtimes are Dec. 22-28: Monday at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday at 2 and 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. (no evening performance). There are no performances on Wednesday, Dec. 24 or Thursday, Dec. 25 due to the Christmas holiday. Tickets may be purchased in person (no service fees) at the State Theatre Box Office, online at, by calling 1.800.982.2787 or visiting a Ticketmaster Center.

For more information about MOTOWN THE MUSICAL, please visit

For more information about tickets to the Broadway on Hennepin Season, please visit


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11 Questions With ‘Motown The Musical’s’ Youngest Star

Sources: Kare11 – By Sara Pelissero| All Things Michael

Meet "The Michaels" Leon Outlaw Jr. (left), Reed L. Shannon (right)

Meet “The Michaels” Leon Outlaw Jr. (left), Reed L. Shannon (right)

MINNEAPOLIS – A new musical opens in Minneapolis next week that will take the audience back through some of the greatest hits to ever top the music charts. “Motown the Musical” is the story of Motown founder Berry Gordy’s journey from a boxer to a legendary music mogul, who helped launch the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye and more.

On Tuesday, the show opens at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. But before the stage is lit, we had a chance to chat with one of the production’s youngest stars.

Reed LoRenzo Shannon was trained at NC Theatre Conservatory and has performed in shows like, “In the Heights,” “Oliver!” and recently received rave reviews as Gavroche in “Les Miserable.”

In “Motown the Musical,” Shannon plays young versions of Michael Jackson, Berry Gordy and Stevie Wonder.

Here’s 11 questions with Reed.


1. What is your name? What grade are you in?

Reed LoRenzo Shannon, 8th grade

2. What do you like about the audiences?

Meeting so many new people after shows and putting smiles on people’s faces when I am performing.

3. How do you prepare for your role as Young Berry/Stevie/Michael each night?

Before each performance, I sit and think about everything going on in the world, so when I get on stage I am focused, and I get my rest and eat right.

4. How familiar were you with the Motown hits performed in this show before being cast?

I knew all the songs before I came into the cast, because my parents played Motown songs 24/7!

5. What’s your favorite song in the show to perform?

“I’ll Be There” by The Jackson 5

6. What was the last song you downloaded or listened to?

Bo$$ by Fifth Harmony

7. How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a performer?

I was 4 years old when I knew I wanted to perform.

8. You have a number of talents that are showcased in this production. Do you have any hidden talents?

Instagramming, being a comedian, a photographer, and a soon to be YouTuber (making YouTube videos).

9. Have you been to Minnesota before?

No, it will be my first time when Motown comes to town!

10. Are you ready for the cold?

Absolutely not, I am a Tar Heel and from the South, where the sky is blue all the time!

11. If you had to give just one reason why people in Minneapolis should come see this show, what would you say?

Motown shares the history of our lives in America, and everybody is smiling when they leave the show.

“Motown the Musical” runs from Dec. 16 to Dec. 28 at Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. Tickets ($49-$134) are on sale now. Click here for more information or to purchase tickets.


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On The Shoulders Of Motown

Sources: The St. Louis American – By Kenya Vaughn | All Things Michael

Motown the Musical_Horiz_KD1

“It’s nerve-wrecking, yet honoring,” said Elijah Lewis. “It’s a heavy load to carry, but I feel blessed to be able to share my gift in honoring him as an artist.”

For eight shows a week, Lewis portrays Stevie Wonder in “Motown The Musical.”

The show landed in St. Louis last week and continues at the Fox Theatre through November 30.

Lewis is part of a company charged with the task of capturing the essence of the timeless, iconic music that Berry Gordy used to change the landscape of American popular music more than a half-century ago.

“We played those records every Saturday when we were cleaning up – especially The Temptations because my dad loved them,” said Martina Sykes. She graces the stage as Mary Wells – one of Motown’s earliest stars. “I would love to hear the Jackson 5,” she said, “because we knew when they came on that we were close to being finished.”

Spinning Motown LPs was the standard programming for many Saturday morning chore sessions in households across the nation – and probably the world.

But at the height of its popularity, what would come to be known as “The Motown sound” – and the stars responsible for it – played a pivotal role in permanently dismantling the “race music” status quo.

“I think this musical gives insight on how Motown changed music,” Lewis said. “The music of Motown was not only the soundtrack to many people’s lives, but also the soundtrack for this nation.”

More than five dozen selections accompany the history of the record label that produced some of biggest stars in music history – including Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson and Wonder – as “Motown The Musical” relives the journey through the eyes of its founder.

“He had this thing called ‘beat the teacher,’ so everybody had to one-up Mr. Gordy – which ultimately made everyone who they are,” Lewis said. “In this musical you get to really see the love, trust and friendship that they had with each other and how they used that to build something that’s still so iconic today.”

As producer of the original Broadway run and the tour and as writer of the book for the musical, Gordy had his hands in “Motown The Musical” as much as he did the label that inspired it.

“The first few weeks of rehearsal Mr. Gordy flew in and said, ‘I want you guys to know that you are a part of the Motown legacy. You are part of Motown’s history. This is not just another play,’” Sykes said.

“He said, ‘We want to do the same thing with this musical as we did with ‘The Motor City Review’ when we went to these cities and performed.’”

Then, she knew “this is not your average Broadway tour,” she said. “That feeling alone is something I can’t even describe with words. You really feel the weight of what you’re doing.”

Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Edwin Starr Jr. Walker and The All-Stars, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, Wells, Martha and The Vandellas, The Marvelettes, Gladys Knight and The Pips, The Jackson 5, Rick James, Teena Marie and Jackie Wilson (via Gordy’s early days as a songwriter) are among those given their respective moments in the production.

“Motown The Musical” includes the highs and lows of the label from its inception to the 25th Anniversary in 1983 – including Gordy’s complicated relationship with Diana Ross and how it impacted Motown.

“He has this saying, ‘The truth is a hit,’” Lewis said while laughing. “I hope that everyone understands that Mr. Gordy did all of this out of love – love for Diana, love for Stevie, love for Smokey and all of them – not even thinking Motown would grow into what it became.”

The show has fared especially well with fans in St. Louis, and Lewis believes heavily relying on Motown’s prolific catalog of hits plays a huge role in the warm reception.

“I hope that the older generation will be taken back to a time where all of their fondest memories and where they were when they heard this music,” Sykes said. “And I hope it shows the younger generation the kind of hunger and passion they had back then. Maybe seeing this musical will gives them drive to create something like Motown for the next generation.”

“Motown the Musical” continues through November 30 at The Fox Theatre. For more information, call 314.534.1111 or visit


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Bus Trip To “Motown, the Musical” November 20, 2014

Sources: Decatur Area for The Arts | All Things Michael


This is the true American dream story of Motown founder Berry Gordy’s journey from featherweight boxer to the heavyweight music mogul who launched the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson, and many more.  Featuring classic songs such as “My Girl” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”  You will experience  the story behind the music in this record breaking smash hit.

Tickets are $160 and include bus ride, lunch at the Fox, premium seating for the show, and a snack on the ride back.

Date: November 20th, 2014
Location: Fox Theatre in St. Louis
Time: Thursday, 1 p.m.
Phone Number: 217-423-3189

Decatur Area Arts Council

Madden Arts Center and Anne Lloyd Gallery
125 N. Water Street
Decatur, IL  62523

p: 217-423-3189
f: 217-423-3194

Office and Gallery Hours: Monday-Friday – 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Additional Gallery Hours: Saturday – 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

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Talent Show Video Helps Teen Land The Role Of Michael Jackson

Sources: MY San Antonio – By Jeff B Flynn | Edited By – All Things Michael


While his classmates are busy picking out Halloween costumes, Nathaniel Cullors is busy slipping into his costumes. But his garments aren’t for a holiday — they are for Broadway.

Nathaniel, 13, an eighth-grader at Kitty Hawk Middle School, is starring in the Broadway production of “Motown the Musical,” where he plays roles as young Barry Gordy, young Stevie Wonder and young Michael Jackson.

Nathaniel landed the role after a pair of auditions earlier this year. His mother, Fredrecia Cullors, found out that “Motown” was holding auditions.

Nathaniel has been in commercials before, and even had a role in a movie, “The Red Cape.” His mother inquired about parts in the “Motown” production through the talent agency that handles Nathaniel’s appearances.

“They said, ‘You can send a video in,’ so I sent in Nathaniel’s sixth-grade talent show video, ‘Who’s Loving You,’ by the Jackson Five,” Cullors said. “In literally seven minutes, the agent called back. He had the casting director for ‘Motown’ on the other line, and he wanted to know if we could come to New York.”

In February, the day after Super Bowl XLVIII, Nathaniel arrived in New York City and was one of four boys to sing for Barry Gordy and his creative team.

“They were looking for people for the tour, the traveling show … unfortunately, they only picked one,” his mother said. “They said they really liked him, and would keep him on file.”

In April, Nathaniel was invited to take part in the four-day Michael Jackson Boys Camp in Chicago. “It was like another audition; four boys, and they taught them choreography, they went over the songs, and one day was strictly voice lessons.


“When we were leaving, they were offering him a one-day contract, in New York City. He was the top replacement for either the tour or New York,” she said. “Then, in May, they called and said they wanted him to come to New York.”

June 25 was his first performance. Motown is staged at the 1,501-seat Lunt Fontanne Theateron West 46th Street in the Theater District. The show runs through Jan. 18.

“Who’s Loving You” is Nathaniel’s favorite song to perform. “It’s the moment where Michael Jackson had his audition, and it reminds me of when I was auditioning, in that little auditioning room for all those people.”

He first hit the stage as young Barry Gordy, a moment he said he’ll never forget.

“There’s a number right before the scene I have to go out for. They take their bows after their number, and as soon as they hit the downbeat for that, my stomach just kind of dropped. I was like, ‘Uh-oh,’ but all I can remember is how confident I was,” he said.

There are eight “Motown The Musical” performances each week, but child labor laws keep his participation to two nights each week and a Sunday matinee. He is tutored, as are his brother,Demetrius 16, a junior at Judson High School, and his sister, Steffanie, 8, a student at Rolling Meadows Elementary.

He and his parents, Demetrius and Fredrecia Cullors, and the family live in New Jersey and take the bus into NYC each day for rehearsals and shows.

Being on stage takes a lot of getting used to, but Nathaniel said he’s had no problems making the adjustment.

“I like to see the audience. I get nervous when I don’t see them,” he said. “The light hits you, so you can see the first two rows, but behind that, it’s darkness.


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Motown Museum Announces Events to Celebrate Motown the Musical

Originally posted on The Michigan Chronicle:

Motown Museum announced today a series of exciting events offering Detroit Motown fans and theatregoers the opportunity to celebrate the opening of the acclaimed Broadway musical Motown The Musical playing at Detroit’s Fisher Theatre from October 21 to November 16 with a complete Motown experience. Both events are presented by Art Van Furniture as the premiere sponsor and will benefit the Museum. Robin R. Terry, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Motown Museum, made the announcement.

As the historic place where the Motown Sound is preserved and protected for generations to come, Motown Museum is proud to play a central role in the musical’s Detroit run. These exclusive celebrations will offer local patrons and supporters of Motown Museum a unique two-day experience full of music, cuisine and mingling with Motown alumni and luminaries, all concluding with the viewing of Motown The Musical in preferred seating.

The events include:

  • Homecoming…

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Do You Have What It Takes To Play Michael Jackson? Berry Gordy To Hold Auditions For New Motown The Musical Cast

Sources: The Detroit News – By Susan Whitall | All Things Michael


Detroiters: Is that you singing “Stop! In the Name of Love” as if you were a junior Diana Ross? Or maybe you can croon “What’s Going On” with some of the silky heartbreak of Marvin Gaye?

Now’s your chance to show off your Hitsville chops, as Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. and his co-producers of “Motown: The Musical” will hold auditions in Detroit at 9 a.m. Tuesday Oct. 21, at the Motown Historical Museum.

Gordy, Kevin McCollum and Doug Morris announced an open call casting search Thursday for African-American singers for both the Broadway production of “Motown: The Musical” (currently on hiatus), and the national tour. A London production will also launch in 2015.

The auditions will be held Oct. 21 at 2648 W. Grand Blvd., the historic Hitsville U.S.A. location, where so much Motown music was recorded in Studio A. Aspiring performers will audition in Studio A.

Producers are seeking African-American men and women, from their 20s to their 40s, “with exceptional voices.”

They are also seeking an 8-13-year-old African-American boy to play a triple role, enacting the young Michael Jackson, the young Berry Gordy and the young Stevie Wonder. Prior theatrical experience is not necessary, and all vocal parts are encouraged to attend.


■When: Tuesday, Oct. 21

■Time: 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. (sign-in begins at 8:30 a.m.)

■Location: Motown Historical Museum, 2648 W Grand Blvd., Detroit.

What to Bring:

■Sheet music for a song of choice from the Motown songbook that best features vocal range.

■A picture and resume including contact information (cellphone, email) stapled together. A recent snapshot is sufficient in the absence of a formal headshot. An accompanist will be provided.

For more information on the open call auditions, go to

For more details about what to bring and what to prepare, email

“Motown: The Musical” will run at Detroit’s Fisher Theatre from Oct. 21 – Nov. 16, 2014. Single tickets are now on sale, available at all Ticketmaster locations, by phone at 1-800-982-2787 or online at


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Interview With Motown The Musical Rodney Earl Jackson Jr

Sources: SFBayView – By JR Valrey | All Things Michael


“Motown the Musical” is the true story of Motown founder Berry Gordy’s journey from featherweight boxer to the heavyweight music mogul who launched the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson and many more. Motown shattered barriers, shaped our lives and made us all move to the same beat. Now, the Bay Area can experience it live on stage in the record-breaking smash hit “Motown the Musical.”

Today we’re going to be talking with Rodney Earl Jackson Jr., who is playing the part of David Ruffin. “Motown the Musical” will be at the Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market St. at Eighth in San Francisco, from Aug. 19 through Sept. 28. For tickets, call (888) 746-1799 or visit

Rodney Jackson Jr. plays David Ruffin of The Temptations, shown here, and also Jermaine Jackson in “Motown the Musical” at the Orpheum in San Francisco. – Photo: Joan Marcus

Rodney Jackson Jr. plays David Ruffin of The Temptations, shown here, and also Jermaine Jackson in “Motown the Musical” at the Orpheum in San Francisco. – Photo: Joan Marcus

M.O.I. JR: Though many of us don’t know anything yet about the Motown musical, most Black people know about Motown. It’s so much of a part of the Black musical experience. Tell us a little bit about “Motown the Musical,” what it’s about. You play David Ruffin in it; who are some of the other characters that are involved?

Rodney Jackson: “Motown the Musical” is a huge theatrical experience that encompasses 55-70 favorite Motown songs from “Dancing in the Streets” to “My Girl,” “My Guy,” Jackson Five songs, lots of Temptation songs, such as “Ball of Confusion,” and it incorporates Smokey Robinson, Berry Gordy, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye and the huge story about how Motown came to be what it is today or what it was and how it impacted people in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and into the future.

If you think about it, everyone knows a Motown song. You start singing “My Girl” and everybody’s gonna know it whether you’re in Japan or if you’re in the middle of America or in San Francisco. Everyone’s gonna know where that song came from.

But I want them to know the history behind the history behind the Motown phenomenon, what Berry Gordy did. Berry Gordy created this label, this entity of music which was incredible for African-American people because not many of us had lots of power back then and the show goes back to the Civil Rights movement, it goes to JFK and Martin Luther King Jr. being assassinated and all the way up until the end of an era for Motown when Berry Gordy had to make a hard decision and sell the label so that it wouldn’t go under so that his music would stay alive and people would still be able to enjoy it.

M.O.I. JR: For the younger listeners that are tuning in to this Block Report, they might know about Michael Jackson and maybe The Temptations or Smokey or Marvin Gaye in passing. What was the importance of Motown and what years was Motown on top of the world?

Rodney Jackson: I would say Motown was on top of the world right around when the Supremes first took off. You know they had “Baby Love,” “Stop in the Name of Love.” They had so many hits and, at the same time, Marvin Gaye right around the ‘70s had “Inner City Blues,” “Make Me Wanna Holler,” “What’s Going On,” “Mercy, Mercy Me,” all those important songs around the ‘70s I think which was when Motown really took off.

At the same time, that’s when Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five first came about. They auditioned in Detroit and then Berry Gordy up and moved the whole Motown label to LA. I know many people saw the Jackson Five movie on HBO. It’s one of those long-running movies that they show on HBO. It’s like five or six hours long. But that shows a good depiction of what happened in the era when people, especially young people, I think most young people would recognize who the Jackson Five were and who Diana Ross was.

M.O.I. JR: Even though we’re talking about Motown and we’re talking about people who were a cultural phenomenon, you intertwined it with a very political aspect of American history. You talked about the Civil Rights Movement, you talked about the assassination of JFK and around that time Malcolm X and the Panthers. How did Motown impact the politics that were going on in the streets and how did the streets and the politics that were going on impact Motown?

Rodney Jackson: That’s actually a good question, especially because Motown was born in Detroit. When JFK died, we hadn’t seen when Marvin Gaye sang “What’s Going On” and it gets crazy. And I think the people of Motown, the artists, that era, especially after Americans really had to come together in a time of desperation – we’d lost all our heroes, we’d lost Dr. King, we thought there was no more hope – but this music helped to really bring everyone together because it became a political tool for the people of that era to express their feelings.

M.O.I. JR: When you play David Ruffin in the Motown musical – me and you were talking a little bit off air and I’m in my mid-30s – from what I know about David Ruffin he was probably one of the first bad boy singers, one of the first gangsta singers or what not. He had a reputation for being maniacal, he had a reputation for being self-centered, but he also had a reputation for being very talented.

Did you see David Ruffin from a different generational lens? But you also know the ins and outs of David Ruffin probably from your own study but also from you playing the part of David Ruffin in the play. I mean, what do you think about my analysis of David Ruffin and what is your analysis of David Ruffin?

Rodney Jackson: I’m 23. I was born in 1990, so I do have a different point of view, but I think he was a very misunderstood human being. He felt in his heart that he was a superstar but he was connected to a group. I think in his life he wanted to be like Diana Ross – or a male version of her – how she branched out from the Supremes to become her own entity.

He wanted to branch out, also but it backfired on him. His brothers in the group, Eddy and Otis and all the other men in The Temptations, ended up kicking him out the group and I think he fell into little a bit of depression and started using substances that weren’t helping him in his life.

M.O.I. JR: So what part does David Ruffin play in “Motown the Musical”? Do they talk about his life? Do they talk about the breakup with The Temptations?

Rodney Jackson: No, they don’t. It’s interesting though because “Motown 25” was like a huge concert-like revival for all the Motown artists to come together, and actually David Ruffin isn’t there. The other Temptation who took over for him – Eddie Kendricks, who became the lead singer – he sings the “Battle of the Stars” and “Ball of Confusion.” And David Ruffin, he was in the beginning and he sang “My Girl” and they were singing that overseas like Paris and Europe and that was back in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s. But we don’t mention it in the show. We don’t go into detail about why.

M.O.I. JR: What creates tension in the show? I mean when you look at Motown you look at singing and dancing. I mean there was a little ruffled feathers behind the scene, but what creates tension? I mean when we think of Motown we just think of great music.

Rodney Jackson: Every single theatrical experience, whether it’s a play or musical or film or television, has a love story, an important love story because we can all relate to that. Everyone wants to be loved and everyone wants to see out of their lives some other kind of romantic relationship thrown in front of them.

And in this show, in “Motown the Musical,” that relationship is between Diana Ross and Berry Gordy. They had a very wonderful relationship when they were first starting out, when she was just out of high school and he was starting the company back when he was in his late ‘20s and she became like his muse.

Throughout the show – I don’t want to give too much away, but most people know the history about what’s going on – or maybe they don’t, maybe they have a skewed opinion about it because Berry Gordy told you about what’s going on. In the show you see how their relationship changed, how she became his superstar and how she was offered $20 million from a different label and ended up making the hard decision to leave Motown to have a better life with her family and kids, and I think that’s where the tension lies in the show.

And it surrounds people leaving Berry Gordy. Marvin Gaye leaves Berry Gordy. He goes to Columbia. Jackson Five, they go to CBS Records. Diana Ross gets a $20 million contract. She had to leave, and the tension lies in Gordy having to either sell the company or not sell the company.

Because it meant so much to so many people, he gets a lot of slack from the people around him who were there in the beginning, and he ends up doing it because the music is alive in all of us. It’s not really a negative thing, but it’s an important thing for our history.

M.O.I. JR: Last thing on Motown’s history: Do Berry Gordy and Motown own the masters from the Motown classics or who owns that?

Rodney Jackson: I think most artists – I’m too quick to answer that question. I don’t even know. I think he definitely does, because in the musical there are over 65 songs and a lot of artists are sadly deceased, so I think he definitely does hold the rights of the music that he had his hands in, which is most of the music.

M.O.I. JR: Who wrote “Motown the Musical”?

Rodney Jackson: It’s based on his book, which is called “To Be Loved.” It’s a story about Motown and Gordy’s life. It’s his autobiography. He worked on it with other people, but he is the sole writer of the show.

M.O.I. JR: Who executive produced it and who directed it?

Rodney Jackson: The director is Charles Randolph Wright, who is an amazing African American director in New York City. He was an actor when he was younger. The producers are Doug Marsh, who is the head of Sony, and Jerry McCullen who produced “The Heights” and “The Chaperone” and many other really great musicals.

Berry Gordy, Diana Ross and The Supremes back in the day – Photo: Gilles Petard, Redferns

Berry Gordy, Diana Ross and The Supremes back in the day – Photo: Gilles Petard, Redferns

M.O.I. JR: Where has the play been so far?

Rodney Jackson: It’s performing on Broadway every single night in New York City, and we’re the first national tour. We started out in Chicago. We started rehearsing in March for a month and a half and we opened in May. So there’s just two companies now, one in New York City that’s performing every night and our company in Chicago which will be in San Francisco Aug. 15.

M.O.I. JR: Through Sept. 28. You definitely want to see “Motown the Musical.” It will be at the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco. Rodney, let’s talk a little bit about you. I know that you’re from San Francisco. How did you get involved in theater?

Rodney Jackson: Actually, that’s a fascinating story. I grew up in the Fillmore and the Bayview district. I went to a school that back in the ‘90s was called 21st Century Academy, which was right next to Thurgood Marshall and I met a man named Danny Duncan, who was from the San Francisco Arts Education Project, which was an organization for youth who are interested in the arts – singers, actors, dancers – and they have these scholarships especially for inner-city kids and for kids that need more financial aid.

I was one of those kids they picked. He showed me the movie “The Wiz,” which, funny enough, starred Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, and I fell in love with the theater. Later on when I was in elementary school I got a free ticket from my school to see the “Lion King” and that changed everything for me. From then on I wanted to be a part of the theater. And it’s funny enough that it was at the Orpheum Theater, where I’m going to finally be performing come August and September.

But for me theater is inspiring, it’s educational and it can change people’s lives. It can let them escape for a moment. It opens up their eyes. It lets them be free for a moment.

I wish more kids could see more theater, because if they understood the art inside of them, their passion would be able to run free instead of having to be stuck or bogged down with the things that they see that are available to them right now, which is why I started a theater company in San Francisco called the Bay Area Theater Company because I want to create theater.

I want to give people the opportunity to be actors, to be singers, to express their artistic traditions. One of the most important things in people’s lives is art, because it really allows people to express themselves freely without having a preconceived idea of how they should live their lives.

M.O.I. JR: Does your theater company still perform in the Bay Area?

Rodney Jackson: We do. We really, really do. I just graduated college a year ago so we’re like a baby company called the Bay Area Theater Company. We had a show at the African American Cultural Center last year in the Fillmore, and we’re working on things right now. But it’s a little more complicated when I’m in a show in Chicago or in New York. But I’m pretty ambitious.

M.O.I. JR: Well, right on, man. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the young David Ruffin doing his thing in “Motown the Musical.” Tell us a little bit – without telling us too much. Are the Jacksons a big part of “Motown the Musical”?

Rodney Jackson: I also play Jermaine Jackson. I think they have a nice little medley in the second act. I feel like, especially my character, because I’m the third brother who had all the solos in the line and I have this scene with Berry Gordy about how my brothers are wanting the lead. But you know Jermaine married Berry Gordy’s daughter and he stayed. They didn’t want to go.

The Jackson 5 in the touring company of “Motown the Musical” – Photo: Joan Marcus

The Jackson 5 in the touring company of “Motown the Musical” – Photo: Joan Marcus

The younger brothers – they all ended up coming back and what not and then Michael left the group; everybody knows that. But they have a pretty nice part in the second act. We sing “ABC”; we sing “I’ll be There,” ‘cause you gotta realize a musical is like around two and a half hours, so we sing a whole lot of songs.

M.O.I. JR: Now let’s talk a little bit about Jermaine Jackson. From what I’ve seen in the press and what I’ve come to think of Jermaine Jackson, he seems like he’s always been a little jealous of Michael Jackson. Is that what you pick up from being a student of Motown as well as playing Jermaine Jackson in the musical?

Rodney Jackson: Well, I don’t think we get too much into those details because they were teenagers, 15, and little Michael’s 9, so at this point in the musical we are just trying to make it, you know. Our father is just trying to get us in the door so we can go have an audition and make it, so we’re all ecstatic, we are over the moon just to be in Berry Gordy’s office auditioning for this man.

And then he’s like, “I’m moving to L.A. and you guys are coming with me,” and we go crazy and he puts us up and we have this huge number that we do, so I don’t think the jealousy comes out. I think we’re just all happy to be there. And also Jermaine gets some solos, so he ain’t tripping.

M.O.I. JR: So you must be a singer too, man. They got you playing Jermaine Jackson and David Ruffin? So do you have any vocal training or are you just an actor who can sing?

Rodney Jackson: I sing a lot in the show. I trained at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I was a musical theater major there and I graduated last year and I’ve had some vocal training. I also trained with Shannon Day in San Francisco and Othello Jefferson for a little bit and I went to SOTA, the School of the Arts, even though I was a theater major under the direction of George Radar, but I always appreciated the voice training.

I didn’t think I was that great of a singer, but I was part of the Young People’s Team Musical Theater Company, where a lot of people were actors, dancers, singers, so they let us do everything, which really changed our perspective on the arts. I appreciate them for that.

M.O.I. JR: Right on, man. So how can people stay up with you and your theater company online and how can people get more information about “Motown the Musical” online?

Rodney Jackson: They can go to my company’s website,, and it has a whole lot of information about me, my company and Motown because we’re coming to San Francisco so what better way to combine the resources of networking than to put them in all in one place. You can go to for the New York company and click on Tour and see when it’s coming in San Francisco. Or you can go on my Twitter, which is E. Jackson Jr. and check me out. Or they can just Google Rodney Jackson. I bet it’ll pop up.

M.O.I. JR: That’s what’s up, man. I’m looking forward to hanging with you and I’m coming to check it out.

Rodney Jackson: I’m so happy to be home with my family.

M.O.I. JR: Well, we’re going to tell the Block Report and SF Bay View family to come hang out with you. Rodney Earl Jackson Jr. will be at the Orpheum Theater with “Motown the Musical” Aug. 19 through Sept. 28. We’ll see you there.


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