What is most striking about the two performers in “Motown The Musical” who re-enact the complicated relationship between Berry Gordy, Jr., the founder of Motown Records, and Diana Ross — the singer he discovered, made a star out of, and had a child with – is not just how much they each resemble the people they’re portraying. As I discovered when interviewing them for a profile in this month’s Playbill, it’s how much the relationship between Tony Award nominee Valisia LeKae and Brandon Victor Dixon mirrors that of Diana Ross and her mentor and tormentor, boss and lover Berry Gordy.
“We’re not in a romantic relationship, but we are certainly very close friends,” Dixon told me. “The closeness between Berry Gordy and Diana Ross helped make Motown special. Our closeness helps us on stage.”
One time, as I recount in the article, Dixon noticed that LeKae seemed under stress and not taking good care of herself.
“Have you eaten?” he asked her.
“No, I’m not hungry.”
He ordered her a healthy meal of mixed vegetables and brown rice.
“I told you I didn’t want food.”
“I don’t care what you want,” Dixon replied.
“What’s funny is Berry used to do that with Diana,” Dixon says. “During the creative process, [she] wouldn’t eat.”
Though not in my Playbill piece, it’s interesting to read what Ross and Gordy have written about each other.
Here is Diana Ross writing about Berry Gordy in her memoir, Secrets of A Sparrow:
Sometimes Berry was a father to me, at other times a partner and cohort, and finally, at others, controlling and dominating….We went to some ecstatic places together, and then we could be shockingly out of touch…even when I felt unseen and emotionally abused, I always recognized him as an incomparable visionary….
Here is Berry Gordy writing about Diana Ross in his memoir, To Be Loved
Diana meant more to me than she could ever imagine. It is absolutely true that at one time I was obsessed with her. In the heyday of the Supremes I saw the butterfly emerge from the cocoon and I was dazzled. She was magic and she was mine. Diana was willing to let me make her a star and I knew she had the talent, drive and stamina to go the distance. It was, in retrospect, a perfect arrangement and as long as we were a team we were invincible. We treated setbacks the same way we treated success. They were both opportunities.
I loved her because she gave everything to our mission. She had a willingness to discipline herself, to work like a maniac to get it right. All of a sudden I wasn’t the only perfectionist. I had a wonderful counterpart and she wanted what I wanted and so we set off to get it…and we did.
And along with all of that getting we got each other. The good, the bad and finally, the big good-bye.
My story in Playbill: In the Middle with You: Motown Stars Valisia LeKae and Brandon Victor Dixon