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‘Motown: The Musical’ brings music, message of unity to INB Performing Arts Center

Justin Reynolds was practically born to be in “Motown: The Musical.”

He grew up listening to Motown music and said it’s always had a special place in his heart.

Even more so, Reynolds spent a decade of his youth in northern Michigan, a hop, skip and a jump from Detroit, the hometown of Motown founder Berry Gordy and one of its standout performers, Smokey Robinson, whom he portrays in “Motown: The Musical.”

“It was always one of my dreams to be in the show so when I got the opportunity, I was more than ready and excited,” Reynolds said before a recent show in Thousand Oaks, California.

“Motown: The Musical” stops by the INB Performing Arts Center for a seven-show run beginning Wednesday.

The show is based on Gordy’s 1994 autobiography, “To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown,” and tells the story of his founding and running of the label.

The musical also touches on his relationships with Motown artists like Robinson, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Marvin Gaye and the Jackson 5.

“Motown: The Musical” is set in 1983 and finds many of the label’s biggest stars gathered together to celebrate the label’s 25th anniversary.

Through flashbacks, the audience sees Gordy as a youngster(performed by both Chase Phillips and Kai Calhoun) watching his neighbors dance, and as an adult (played by Kenneth Mosley), founding the label.

The jukebox musical features the biggest hits from Motown standouts like Diana Ross (Trenyce), Marvin Gaye (Matt Manuel) and Robinson.

Gordy wrote the musical’s book and acts as a producer. “Motown: The Musical” opened on Broadway in 2013 and closed in 2015 after 738 performances. It was nominated for four Tony Awards and has also been performed in London.

The national tour of “Motown: The Musical” launched in 2014.

After being cast as Robinson, Reynolds took to YouTube to watch documentaries and interviews on Motown and Robinson.

“He has that unique voice,” Reynolds said. “I did a lot of research on him and how he carries himself and his vision behind everything along with Berry Gordy.”

While wanting to embody Robinson as much as possible, Reynolds and the rest of the cast were advised by Gordy and his creative team, who worked with the cast during rehearsals, to find themselves in their roles at the same time.

“You try to find yourself within these iconic people and try to bring them to life as much as you can through yourself,” he said.

Reynolds’ favorite scene as Robinson comes after a gunshot interrupts a Smokey and the Miracles concert in Alabama.

Though shaken, he and the band vow to stay and perform for the audience.

“He’s introduced maybe the next day after the gunshot, comes out on stage, a little nervous but still has this pride and drive to perform for these people and again bring a message of unity,” Reynolds said.

At this point in the show, Reynolds, joined by the Miracles, begins singing the band’s hit single “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me.”

Reynolds hasn’t yet gotten the opportunity to work with Robinson (“That would be amazing,” he said. “I probably would freak out a little bit.”), though he’s cherished the time he’s gotten to spend with Gordy.

“Back in the day when he created Motown, he was really trying to spread a message of unity and he really wants to keep putting that message out there with ‘Motown: The Musical,’ ” Reynolds said. “Night in and night out, we’re telling that story and spreading the message of unity, which is great.”

Since joining the national tour in the fall of 2017, Reynolds has enjoyed seeing how audiences in different parts of the country react to the show.

He especially likes hearing from audience members with their own connection to Motown.

“People that have a connection to Motown, they are the first ones to say ‘I worked in the office for a year with Mr. Gordy’ or ‘I played bass on this song,’ ” he said.

Touring in the current political climate has also shown Reynolds that Gordy’s message of unity is still relevant today, and it’s a message he’s proud to help share.

“It’s really great to be able to be a part of the Motown legacy and to continue that message of unity and … not going backwards and keep moving forward with where we need to go,” he said. “Motown music wasn’t just for white people, it wasn’t just for black people, it was for all people and that goes for everything. Everything should be for all people.”

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