‘Motown the Musical’ to kick off national tour at The Smith Center

Come and get these memories.

Martha and the Vandellas’ 1963 debut, which contains the above lyrics, didn’t even make the cut for “Motown the Musical,” which kicks off a national tour starting Tuesday at The Smith Center’s Reynolds Hall.

But the song’s sentiments seem to suit the jukebox musical, which presents dozens of other Motown classics as it traces the rise of the Detroit-based record label — and such homegrown stars as the Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and the Jackson Five.

To say nothing of label founder Berry Gordy Jr.

Not only did Gordy’s 1994 autobiography — “To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, the Memories of Motown” — inspire the musical, Gordy also wrote the musical, which played Broadway in 2013 and returned in 2016 before (and after) the show hit the road.

For “Motown the Musical,” Gordy also co-wrote (with Michael Lovesmith) such new tunes as “It’s What’s in the Groove That Counts.”

But no one buying a ticket to “Motown the Musical” wants to hear new songs.

Not with dozens of Hitsville classics on the program — from the Jackson Five’s “ABC” to Smokey Robinson’s “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me.”

To say nothing of Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street,” Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life,” the Four Tops’ “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch,” the Temptations’ “My Girl” — and Mary Wells’ “My Guy.”

Both versions of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” — Gladys Knight and the Pips’ 1967 rendition (which hit No. 2 on the pop chart) and Marvin Gaye’s chart-topping 1968 recording — make the “Motown” cut. As do several Supremes smashes, starting with their No. 1 debut, 1964’s “Where Did Our Love Go.”

Longtime Las Vegan Mary Wilson remembers them well. After all, she was there when they were created — and recounted those days in her own memoir, 1986’s “Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme.”

While “everyone has their own take” on the Motown story, the story “Motown the Musical” tells — from Gordy’s perspective — depicts “the inside goings-on,” Wilson says in a telephone interview, calling the show “more of a behind-the-scenes” account.

It’s one “I wouldn’t say (is) inaccurate,” Wilson comments. “It’s Mr. Berry Gordy’s viewpoint.”

As for Wilson’s own Motown memories, “we had a ball,” Wilson says of working at the record label. “The musicians, the singers, the producers, the writers — everyone was absolutely thrilled to be there.”

Whether they were marveling at Little Stevie Wonder’s status as “a little genius” or swooning over heartthrob Gaye (“We all adored him,” Wilson says), life at Motown was “like being in a musical Disneyland,” according to the ex-Supreme. “And we were the rides.”

Another longtime Las Vegan, Bubba Knight — who joined his sister Gladys in Gladys Knight and the Pips — also has Motown memories, “Grapevine” among them.

When songwriters Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong “gave us the track, we studied that song for two or three weeks,” Knight says in a separate telephone interview.

After “we worked with it — Gladys and the other two Pips and me — we asked Smokey Robinson (also a top songwriter, producer and vice president at Motown) “to give us time in the studio,” Knight recalls.

Robinson had been the first to record the song, he adds, noting Motown’s “quality control didn’t like that version.”

But when the group went into the studio, “Gladys did one take, we did the background — and bam,” Bubba Knight says. Motown officials heard their version and said, “ ‘Yeah, that’s what we’re looking for.’ ”

The musical’s behind-the-scenes Motown account begins 25 years after the label’s launch — in 1983, when the now-legendary “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever” TV special featured Michael Jackson introducing his trademark moonwalk while performing “Billie Jean.”

“Motown the Musical” then flashes back to 1958 Detroit, where Gordy creates “the sound of young America” with the future musical legends he records.

“We all know the music, but maybe a lot of people don’t know the story,” says David Kaverman, who plays Robinson on “Motown the Musical’s” eight-month tour.

“Berry and Smokey, in real life, were best friends” and have been “friends for 50 years,” Kaverman notes. “Berry really relied on him as a friend” while building the Motown brand.

Auditioning for the role of Robinson, Kaverman was understandably “nervous” as the actor tried to “capture his essence,” he says in a telephone interview from Utica, New York, where producers previewed “Motown the Musical” before hitting the road to Las Vegas.

The production wasn’t “looking for impersonators” — and “Berry Gordy has the final say on all people” cast, so getting Gordy’s approval “takes a little bit of the edge off,” Kaverman adds.

Even so, Kaverman watched “a lot of YouTube clips” to study Robinson’s trademark tenor vocals.

“You hear him, you automatically feel a ease. It’s just a confidence he has,” according to Kaverman, citing “a charisma you’re sort of drawn to.”

In the show, Kaverman performs five of Robinson’s songs; his favorite is “Shop Around,” Motown’s first No. 1 hit.

“A lot of the songs are truncated,” he points out, because “there’s just so much music in the show.”

Which, Wilson notes, is precisely the point.

For all “the business of Motown, up and down, the music is exquisite,” the former Supreme comments. “That basically is the engine” for a blast from the past about “a great place to be.”

Read more from Carol Cling at reviewjournalcom. Contact her at ccling@reviewjournal.com and follow @CarolSCling on Twitter.

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