When you think of musical legends, Detroit is on the list. The city that is known for Motown and integrating music left a large footprint on the world. In Motown The Musical, the play takes us all down memory lane. Whether you’ve lived it, read about it, or remember the experience from stories passed down, we all have our memory of Motown.
The play retells the story of a dream that changed the world. The legends of an era are shared with us through music, dance, and acting. When we think of legends, Diana Ross is one of the many greats that represented Motown and made musical history. In the play, her story is recaptured by musical extraordinaire Allison Semmes.
We had an opportunity to sit down with the musician and actress to speak on her musical journey, legendary role, and staying balanced.
CC: What initially piqued your interest to go into musical theatre?
AS: When I was young, I started off in the children’s church choir. I also participated in the Chicago Children’s Choir. This made a huge mark on my musical journey. I have been singing all my life. When my mom heard me sing at the age of three with a vacuum cleaner she said, “I have to get this child in a choir.” With a combination of choirs growing up, I studied classical voice and graduated from the University of Illinois Champaign Urbana. I knew I wanted to continue singing all my life. After I graduated, I also knew my dream was to be on Broadway. I auditioned for the New York University musical theater program and I was accepted. I studied musical theater in New York for two years.
CC: Did you imagine yourself playing a legendary role in a Broadway Musical?
AS: At the time, I was performing in New York City with The Book of Mormon. We received free tickets to see Motown. I was dying to see it and enthralled to see the show with all the music, the greatest hits, and the classic timeless music. It was the Diana Ross role that encaptured me. I thought, oh my how can I get there. When I heard they needed a replacement for the Diana Ross understudy, I auditioned and got the role. I then auditioned for the tour, and got the part. My eye was on that role when I first saw the show.
CC: When you saw the role and knew you wanted it, what did you do to prepare as you were manifesting it?
AS: Preparation plays a huge part and why I am here today. The woman that originated the role of Diana Ross, I replaced her in The Book of Mormon. When she moved on to Motown, people were telling me that she was watching Diana clips and taking it all in. I knew this was a role that I wanted to step into. I would watch clips and prepare for when that moment came so I would be ready. Manifestation is assisted by visualization 100%. You have to see yourself in the role, feel yourself doing it, and prepare for what you want.
CC: What do you do to stay focused and balanced?
AS: I’ve been doing yoga for quite some time. When I first started, I would do a vinyasa flow to stretch my mind, body, and spirit to get the blood flowing. Recently, I started meditating before the show and it really centers me and gives me an intention for the show. I notice the difference when I don’t meditate and practice yoga.
CC: What are your next steps?
AS: I would love to originate a Broadway role, in two shows I’ve been replacing a role. I would also like to do some television and film. I am an actress, but I am a singer first in my heart. I love performing different types of music, whether it is new music, jazz, or experimental jazz. I have a lot of goals that I would like to reach.
CC: Can you speak on playing the role of a legend and leaving a legacy?
AS: I am so honored to do this role. I was getting emotional on opening night to tell the truth. We work so close with Berry Gordy and he wants us to tell the truth and tell the story that he has told us. I feel so honored and grateful to do it. I am glad that they trust us to tell the story as well in our truth. They don’t want impersonations of the people of Motown, because they are real people and a lot are still living. I know they want us to be as honest as possible and remember it was a legacy of love, and that is what keeps us going and together.
Motown the Musical is at the Fisher Theater in Detroit until April 30, 2017.