Q&A: Motown The Musical's Charl Brown

Q&A: Motown The Musical's Charl Brown

Updated On: May 1, 2018
By Nicki McIntyre
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    We talked to Charl Brown ahead of Motown The Musical's London debut on Thursday 11 February. Brown returns to the role of Motown legend Smokey Robinson, whch he previously played in the Broadway production, earning him a 2013 Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical.

    What is your favourite song to perform and why?

    Charl Brown: I keep going back and forth between “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” and “Shop Around”. Both are great. One is slow, one is fast. One is a big production number, the other is a dramatic number. Right now I’m loving “Shop Around “ the most because it moves, it’s fun and it’s a really big performance piece.

    What is the one Motown hit that’s not in the show that you wish was?

    Charl Brown: Now this is a very touchy subject for me. I did the show on Broadway and for the first two weeks of previews while we were still creating the show and making changes, I sang “Tears Of A Clown”. It was a big production number, it’s my favourite Smokey song; it’s actually his best-selling song of all time. But unfortunately that number got cut before we opened, for creative reasons. But if I could sing anything, “Tears Of A Clown” is my favourite Smokey Robinson song.

    Having come from Broadway to the West End, have you been in the West End before? How are you feeling? 

    Charl Brown: This is my first time on the West End. I feel great. I am very honoured and excited to be here. This is every Broadway performer’s dream, to come bring a show to the West End or to do a show at all on the West End, so I feel very lucky.

    Do you feel more pressure or excitement at the prospect of taking on such an iconic and influential person?

    Charl Brown: Yes, every time I step on that stage I feel the pressure, just because Smokey was such an important character and an important person to the music industry and to Motown Records specifically. He is still living and I’m sure he’ll come see the show again. Especially if he is in the audience, I get a little bit nervous. I never get nervous except for when Smokey is there, you know, portraying a living person who is there watching me. One time he came on Broadway and sat in the second row, and I had to pretend not to see him the whole time, which was a little nerve-wracking. So yeah, sometimes there is pressure to live up to his standards.

    Has he given you any advice?

    Charl Brown: He hasn’t necessarily given me advice, but the first time I met him after he saw me perform, he had this big smile on his face and he said “Hey me!” and gave me a big hug. So now every time he sees me, he call me “Me”. So that has been all the validation I need to continue to play him, which is cool. 

    Why do you think Motown is such a great show for people to see?

    Charl Brown: First of all, you can’t deny the music and the catalog. We have so many songs, we touch on over 50 Motown songs in the show and it’s just the greatest music that’s ever been written. It was also at a time in American history where black performers were going through the civil rights movement and it’s important because many people don’t realise that Berry Gordy is actually the reason that we know Martin Luther King’s speeches, because he recorded them on Motown Records, which we actually talk about in the show. Dr. King is a voiced character in the show, so I think it has political importance. But the Motown artists could also give you the feelings of love through song and music, and I think everyone can relate to love and sadness, and that’s why I think a lot of people will love it. 

    Do you think it will appeal to all ages?

    Charl Brown: I definitely think it appeals to all ages because the people who were around when this music originally came out, it brings them right back to where they were. I’ve had a lot of fans at the stage door tell me, “I felt like a kid again hearing this music.” But also for younger kids today, they don’t realise that they know Motown songs, because so many artists have covered it, it’s in the background of so many other tracks, and other artists have sampled Motown music to make their music. I think it’s universal because everyone has heard a Motown song, whether they realise it or not. But also, it’s just good music. Nobody writes music like that – well, maybe Adele does – but nobody writes good, soulful music like that anymore, for the most part. It’s timeless.

    If you could sum up the show in 3 words, what would they be?

    Charl Brown:
    Love, passion and soul.