Arts & Entertainment

Old Music With New Life: Story of Motown’s Founder

Photo credit: Joan Marcus
Photo credit: Joan Marcus

The careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and many more were first launched by famous Motown founder, Berry Gordy. Motown the Musical, which runs through Aug. 9 at the Oriental Theatre (24 W. Randolph St.), tells the story of Gordy’s journey of boosting many well-known names to stardom throughout the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.

The upbeat musical production features Chicagoland native Chadaé Nichol as a member of the ensemble alongside many other cast members who will be performing more than 50 classic hits.

The extensive performance of Motown’s history required a lot of research, preparation and drawing upon prior knowledge for the actors.

“[For this performance], having a connection to music is so important,” Nichol said. “I grew up listening to Motown music, looking up to such performers as Diana Ross, The Supremes, Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson. I had to do a lot of research.”

Motown5The variety of songs from the cast portraying these famous performers includes hits such as “My Girl” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

“One of my favorite scenes is ‘Dancing in the Street’ because it has the spirit of why Motown was created in the first place,” Nichol said. “The energy is thrilling and has a way of repeating history and making people everywhere just want to dance, even in the theater.”

For Nichol, the sensation of wanting to dance was something she experienced early in life; she started dancing at the age of 3, danced throughout high school and eventually went on to major in dance and musical theatre at Ball State University.

Contributing to Nichol’s desire to dance was her early introduction to musical theater.

“I was introduced to musical theatre as a toddler, frequently watching black and white films [with actors such as] Fred Astaire and Shirley Temple,” Nichol said. “The first musical I saw was Ain’t MisBehavin on a VHS that my grandmother gave me.”

But all the years of musical and dancing experience still didn’t keep Nichol from being nervous for the audition.

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“I had my very first audition [for Motown the Musical] here in Chicago,” Nichol said. Although it was a dance call, I was the most nervous that I have ever been at an audition. From there, I went to a singers call, and weeks later a callback from the creative team. My final callback took place in New York, where Berry Gordy was present. All of this took place over a span of three months and was definitely one of the most nerve wracking experiences of my life.”

But the nerves were worth it. Nichol takes the stage as an ensemble member with her castmates in a production meant to transport audience members back in time.

“I hope that people are really inspired by the story, surprised to get a peek into the lives of these iconic characters and have a genuinely good time while doing it,” Nichol said.

Nichol, along with the rest of the cast, brings Motown’s history to life in Motown the Musical at the Oriental Theater (24 W. Randolph St.) through Aug. 9. Tickets range from $30-125 and are available for purchase through ticketmaster.com.

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