Earlier this week we introduced you to Allison Semmes, who plays Diana Ross in the touring edition of Broadway’s, today I’m introducing you to Clifton Oliver, who plays the founder of Motown and the producer of Motown: The Musical, Berry Gordy. Clifton is considered a Broadway veteran and gave his insight on the business and how the acting roles of the Black male need to be expanded.
Boston Fab: What was the challenge in playing a living legend?
Clifton Oliver: I know Berry, I’ve known him for many years, so in the past he has been portrayed, like in Dream Girls, as a villian that stole money when the truth is that he is nothing like that. He is compassionate, loving, respectful…he just wanted a specific thing. You had to sing a certain way. You had to act a certain way. You had to have the respect of each other. I’ve learned that he’s also funny. It’s fun to be able to show that side of him through this work.
BF: If you weren’t acting what would you be doing?
CO: If I weren’t an actor, I would be…well actually, I love discovery and Egypt, so probably an archaeologist or build aquariums. I am very interested in tropical fish believe it or not.
BF: What do you like best about being in Broadway shows?
CO: You know as much as people talk about my career on Broadway, I’ve never opened a Broadway show. I’ve never been in an original Broadway cast, so I would still like to do that. Having that said, you know Boradway is being at the top of your profession – you are the best at what you do. It’s been a dream to play parts like Simba for 12 years. You get to escape reality and embody a character. People pay $250.00 to see you transcend into another world, and that is amazing.
CO: To be honest, it’s nice to be removed from reality. You have a set schedule, you know you have to be somewhere at 7:00pm or 7:30pm, but before then, you can do whatever. You have structure. You can be organized and focus which is sometimes something you can’t do in “real” life.
BF: What are the most difficult aspects for you doing the show?
CO: It’s the pressure of being in a show where the person who created the show is hands on. The pressure is constantly there. I always have to be on point; be on my game. Also going to theaters the sound varies, and I have to really rely on the sound. I have to change my voice over the years, so it is hard to do that.
BF: What do you love about the show?
CO: I love that I am 39, and I get to be forever young. People see him [Berry Gordy] as a 21 year old starting in the 1960’s, from 19 – 21, to being youthful and becoming an older man. I really like that evolution; that change.
BF: What are some principles, tips that you have for longevity in “The Business”?
CO: Trust every decision and don’t second guess yourself. I suffer from dyslexia and so for me when I come up with a decision, I have to risk, trust and go with it. I say that to young people. I say that to people with disabilities. Trust yourself. If you question yourself, everyone can see it, so that’s number one. Trust your choice.
BF: So what is next for you?
CO: The show is booked for another year. There are talks of Japan and London. I’m a dancer, singer and an actor, so I’m always hoping for more work in television and film. I need to move to L.A. to see what I can do.
BF: What do you think about Black actors feeling snubbed in the Oscars this year, yet there seems to have been may accolades for actors on Broadway? Is there a resurgence of Black actors on Broadway?
CO: I don’t think that there is a resurgence of Black actors, I think there is a resurgence of Black female actors. You see, I’m old school. I’m like a Sammy Davis Jr; a song and dance man. Right now they want more of the Harpo types. The dark, strong and mysterious man. I don’t want to be a stereotypical leading man. I think that pop culture is influencing that with the twerking video girls, athletes and drug dealing. We are missing the poetry.
BF: What can we do to be good audience members for Motown: The Musical?
CO: Don’t be quiet! The show is very interactive. If you feel moved to sing along, you can. Try to exude energy!
Motown: The Musical is playing at The Boston Opera House (539 Washington St, Theater District) through February 15th. Tickets range from $56.00 – $282.00. To purchase yours click here!
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus