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Would-be stars audition for ‘Motown The Musical’

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

The morning was crystal clear, but if you looked closely at Detroit’s Motown Museum around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, you could almost see the hope and ambition rising in the air like mist.

Several hundred would-be stars were lined up to audition for the upcoming national tour of “Motown The Musical,” which is being cast from top to bottom.

It was a cheerful, muted crowd in dress-up clothes that snaked from the sidewalk up to the landmark’s front door.

Joshua Davis, 25, who called himself as “a singer and an up-and-coming playwright,” waited over an hour before he was ushered into the celebrated Studio A, the birthplace of so much Motown gold.

Aspiring hoofers and singers were asked to have a Motown song prepared and bring along the sheet music. Davis brought “Can I Close the Door on Love,” which was written for the musical.

“It speaks about Berry Gordy,” he said, “and how he sacrificed to make other people’s dreams come true.” Gordy, as it happens, was on hand for the auditions Tuesday, but entirely invisible.

Just as he was ushered in, Davis turned and said, “I’m so excited — an audition in Studio A!”

Inside the small studio, the Detroiter from the city’s east side smiles and shakes hands all around. Then he gets down to business and, once the piano player kicks in on the chorus, really belts it out. The professionals listening seem pleased.

Back outside, Davis is exhilarated and a little out of breath, and can’t stop grinning. “I think I did pretty good!” he said.

The cast produced by these auditions and subsequent ones will pick up the baton from the current national tour, which opened at the Fisher Theatre on Tuesday night and will play through April 30.

Casting agent Scott Wojcik said they’re looking for actors with their own style.

“We’re not looking for impersonators,” he said. “We’re not interested in mimicry. We’re looking for people with spark and quality.”

In many respects, Tuesday’s exercise was a screening device to figure out who will get called back for the real thing.

“This process is so quick,” Wojcik said, involving just one fast song and then out. “It’s like speed dating,” he said. “But if we like you, then we’ll coach you a little, and send you to YouTube to study old performances before your next audition.”

“There’s a learning curve with Motown,” he said by way of explanation. “People don’t really sing like that anymore.”

There can easily be five different callbacks before anyone gets the prize. The lucky may get called back to the museum Wednesday, though subsequent auditions are likely to take place in New York.

Wojcik seemed pleased with the day’s progress. “We’ve heard some fantastic voices today, ones that embody that essence, style and sound,” he said.

Clearly hoping she has the right sound was Vatella Fields, 33, who first learned of the audition at 7 a.m. Tuesday and dropped everything to barrel straight up from Toledo and stand in line for her shot at fame.

Fields, who said she acted in “I Need a Man” at the Detroit Opera House two years ago, isn’t sure what song she’s singing yet — she’s still making up her mind. Nor does she have the requisite sheet music.

But in every other respect, the she’s a total professional.

“Honestly,” Fields said, “I’m not picky about parts. I’ll go wherever they need me.”

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Twitter: @mhodgesartguy