Brandon Victor Dixon may not have a long Broadway résumé, but he certainly has an auspicious one. After his Tony-nominated performance in the Oprah Winfrey-produced musical The Color Purple in 2006, Dixon is back on Broadway in pop icon Berry Gordy’s brain child, Motown The Musical. Eight performances a week, you can see Dixon at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre starring as Motown founder Berry Gordy himself. The show depicts the music legend’s rise to fame, his relationships with the great Diana Ross and Smokey Robinson (played by Tony Award nominees Valisia LeKae and Charl Brown), and the many pitfalls and lawsuits that came along the way. Dixon took some time to tell TheaterMania about his experiences arguing with Berry Gordy over how to be “Berry Gordy” and what it’s like to be the face that greets New York commuters each morning.
How did you get involved with Motown?
The director is a mentor of mine and when he got the job, he called me and said, “you’ll never guess whose house I’m leaving right now. I land in New York tomorrow. Meet me at Chipotle at 7.” We met up and he told me, “Yesterday I was at Berry Gordy’s house and I’m going to be doing his new show and I need you to be my Berry Gordy.” It certainly wasn’t a conversation I was expecting.
And now your face is all over Penn Station. How does that feel?
That’s pretty awesome. Not expected…[But] I am happy to greet you there.
So many of the old Motown stars have come to see the show. What has it been like performing their songs for them?
It’s interesting for me. I spent all of my days and weeks performing in front of my character so it definitely was a different experience for me than everyone else, but I was curious to see how they would feel about it.
It’s from Berry’s perspective so I was curious as to how everyone would feel. It was really quite wonderful to see all the joy and the love that they had and the appreciation they had for our performance and for our representation of the lives that these people had led. They really loved the show and loved the work that we were doing. [They had] a true appreciation for the work that we were putting onstage.
How has it been working so closely with your character? I know a lot of actors entirely avoid meeting the real-life people they portray to keep them from influencing their performances.
They should influence their performance. They’re the people that you are representing onstage. Maybe not their opinions or feelings as far as what you’re doing but they should influence [you]. For me it was really fine. Berry trusted me and had great respect and admiration for my instincts onstage, and in a lot of respects, [his] were very similar. It was no sweat. I would argue with him at times over the ways to interpret scenes or how things would happen until finally he would be like, “How you gonna tell me? I’m the one who lived it!” [Laughs]
Would you ever win those arguments?
Were you a fan of Motown music before this show?
My introduction to Motown was through The Jackson Five and Michael Jackson. Michael’s been my greatest creative inspiration, so that’s how I really became familiar with Motown as a whole, and as I got older I learned far more about the other groups. My love for The Four Tops cannot be expressed greatly enough. The Four Tops and Marvin Gaye…it’s just such a huge catalogue. It’s really astounding.
Which of the songs get stuck in your head the most often?
It varies. They all cycle through my head because the songs are like that, but I’m always singing “I’ll be there…Darlin’ reach out!”
Which of your castmates’ songs would you most like to steal?
I would love to be a part of the opening number. The whole Four Tops/Temptations medley. I would probably like to be the lead singer for The Four Tops.…I’d love to do “Ball of Confusion” as well.
Are you sick of listening to the music yet?
Not yet, but you can feel free to check in with me come September. [Laughs]
How do feel about your costars’ Tony Award nominations?
I’m over the moon for them. I’m really excited. The work that Valisia and Charl have done is really quite special…I remember what it felt like when I got my first one, so I was really happy for them.
Is awards season adding more energy to the performances?
In all honesty, it’s neither here nor there because before the season even started, we were sold out for months. And the excitement of our audiences…it’s like a concert in there…it just keeps pushing us forward.