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Interview:
Mosaic Youth Theatre's "Now That I Can Dance" at the DIA, 5 Things to Know
 

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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Fourteen years ago the Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit unveiled "Now That I Can Dance -- Motown 1962," which went on to become the most popular production in the troupe’s 27-year history.



But it's been on ice for the past seven years.



By agreement with Motown, which granted Mosaic rights to its music for "Now That I Can Dance," the musical -- which focuses on the label's history from 1961-64, when it had its first major commercial triumphs -- had to shut down so as not to compete with "Motown: The Musical," on Broadway or touring. With that now in drydock, "Now That I Can Dance" is back for two weekends at the Detroit Institute of Arts, also marking creator and retiring founding artistic director Rick Sperling's final production with Mosaic...



• Sperling says that that "Now That I Can Dance's" absence was noticed during the seven years it was prevented from being performed. "A week hasn't gone by that someone's said, 'When are you bringing 'Now That I Can Dance Back." It has an incredible popularity. What kind of cracked the ice was when Otis Williams got them to agree to let that Temptations musical, 'Ain't Too Proud,' go up. Once that happened, that opened the door for us to go back and get the rights to the music again and be able to move forward."



Motown's 60th anniversary also provided some juice for putting "Now That I Can Dance" back on the boards, according to Sperling. "I couldn't think of a better time to do this. And for myself I couldn't imagine a better play to go out with. Obviously it was our most popular show, and also in a way it encapsulates what I wanted to do with Mosaic, which is tell the story of Detroit teenagers and show the potential and capacity for Detroit people to do great things. That's what Motown was about, too...So many of them were teenagers when the company started."



• The 45-member company for this fourth production of "Now That I Can Dance" is "the strongest vocal cast we've had," according to Sperling, and is also distinguished by a combination of current Mosaic students and alumni. "They're ages 11-50, and 20 of them are alumni. We have members who have been in all of the past three productions and just members of the community. The Motown Museum allowed us to do auditions in Studio A, which was an amazing experience, and being able to bring in people, whether they were Mosaic or members of the community that really captured the performances, made this a very strong cast."



• One of the great services of "Now That I Can Dance" as well is that it focuses on an era of Motown that's usually eclipsed by the more successful period that followed. "A lot of the music is not the songs everyone knows," Sperling notes. "We have 'Do You Love Me,' 'Please Mr. Postman,' but a lot of the songs are not part of the normal Motown canon. It was a different time musically, at Motown, before the Supremes or the Temptations had a No. 1 hit, and they don't tell that story very often. They were making a lot of mistakes, doing the best they could and learning as they went along. That's what makes it such a great story, to me."



• While Sperling is leaving Mosaic after 27 years he's not retiring from the workforce; He's serving as a consultant with the Detroit Public Schools Community District focusing on art programs. And he's not entirely out of Mosaic, either. "The plan is I will still come back to do alumni production over the summers. I've been telling people this is my last show but I might be like Cher -- every summer do a comeback tour." Sperling's place has been taken by DeLashea Strawder, a Mosaic alumna who's also served as music director and associate artistic director.



The Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit's "Now That I Can Dance -- Motown 1962," runs Aug. 9-18 at the Detroit Institute of Arts, 5200 Woodward Ave. $10-$25. 313-872-6910 or mosaicdetroit.com.

Web Site: www.mosaicdetroit.com

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