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Motown The Musical - Broadway

A new musical based on the life on Motown founder Berry Gordy.

Motown's Ryan Shaw on Embodying the 'Signature Moves' and Music of Stevie Wonder

Motown's Ryan Shaw on Embodying the 'Signature Moves' and Music of Stevie Wonder
Ryan Shaw photographed by Jenny Anderson for
'I fought long and hard not to impersonate him.'

Get ready, ‘cause here they come! is taking a deep dive into some of the musical icons who grace the stage in Motown: The Musical, which charts the life of Motown mogul Berry Gordy. Our Legends of Motown series continues with Grammy nominee Ryan Shaw, who steps behind the piano and into the world of music icon Stevie Wonder. One of the most beloved musical artists of the 20th century, Wonder signed with Motown at age 11 and continues to work with the label today. Read on to learn how Shaw channeled Stevie!

Name: Ryan Shaw

Age & Hometown: 37; Decatur GA

Role: Stevie Wonder

First/fondest memory of your icon: My fondest memory of Stevie Wonder happened a few years ago. I had received my first Grammy nomination, and I was in Los Angeles at the awards ceremony. At the end of the show, while everyone was walking out, it registered to me that they were playing what I thought was an unknown version of "Master Blaster." I was thinking that it was a cool version, with just piano and vocal—I wondered where they got that from. Then I realized that it wasn't a recording—it was Stevie, live on stage, playing the walk-out of the Grammys. Not only did it give me chills, but it made me love him all the more. To know that an artist of his caliber is still so in love with music that he would entertain people, even on the walk-out! When people realized it was Stevie, they came running back in. He must have played for 15 minutes until they made him stop because the room would not empty with him playing. It was one of the best moments of my life, to experience music so beautiful without need for spotlight or ego. He is truly God-blessed and amazing.

Favorite song sung by your icon: That's a difficult question, but if in a corner I would have to say "Love's In Need of Love Today." The words ring true always. No matter how much love we have in the world today, there is always a need for more for someone, somewhere. The melody is as beautiful as the message, but I think my favorite part of the song is the out choruses. I love a song where you can sing the chorus for 15 minutes and it just gets more and more infectious.

What does it mean to you to be playing your icon? Initially it was very frightening because as an up and coming artist, I had the fear of failing him in some way. I had come to terms that I will never be Stevie and so my challenge became not how to imitate him, but rather how to embody him. It took pressure off and gave me a sense of freedom to be Stevie to each audience every night. It is a brilliant honor each and every time.

Most surprising fact you learned about your icon: The songs he wrote for other artists: One of my favorite songs by Chaka Khan, "Tell Me Something Good," Aretha Franklin's "Until You Come Back to Me," and Minnie Riperton’s "Lovin’ You" were all written by Stevie Wonder.

Hardest thing about playing your icon: Walking the line between imitation and essence. I fought long and hard not to impersonate him. We all know that Stevie has signature moves, but I had to go deeper. I think about the times in our country when he created this music, and what his personal life and challenges were, then allow the moves to come from an emotional place, not just because we've seen him do them.

Easiest thing about playing your icon: Putting on the clothes. LOL. After that, the work begins.

Which of your icon’s songs do you sing in the show? “Signed Sealed Delivered.”

If you could meet your icon, what would you say to him? Thank you for following your heart and changing my life.

One word to describe your icon: Timeless.

Click here for more Legends of Motown profiles!

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