It’s Josh Tower’s opening night debut as famed producer Berry Gordy in ‘Motown the Musical’ June 17 and doctor’s say his pregnant wife Karen Cortes-Tower is due any day now.
The 44-year-old Upper Dublin High School graduate said he’d finished his second and final dress rehearsal for the role at 5 p.m. that day and there were two hours until the curtain rose that night at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York.
“I go to the show, I’m fine,” he said. “My wife went to the doctor, who said it’s going to happen soon. Halfway through the second act my wife texts the stage manager [saying] she’s going to have the baby, but not to tell me. They didn’t tell me anything. At the end of the show, the curtain comes down and everyone is saying, ‘Go! Go!’ and I said, ‘Yeah, we did great!’ and they’re like, ‘No, go to the hospital!’”
He slipped off his costume and rushed over to St. Luke’s Hospital hoping he hadn’t missed the delivery.
Luckily, Tower made it with plenty of time to spare to welcome their new baby, Marlow Rose, into the world at 4:45 a.m. The baby weighed seven pounds 14 ounces.
“It was the first ‘Motown’ baby,” he said. “It was very cool. We were showered with gifts from the cast.”
The unforgettable night was the cherry on top of an illustrious career on Broadway for Tower, which has included a six-year run as Simba in Disney’s ‘The Lion King.’
For ‘Motown’, the show follows Gordy’s life from the onset of Motown in 1959 through Michael Jackson’s unforgettable Moonwalk performance at Motown’s 25th anniversary show in 1983 just as Motown was being sold.
“It’s the soundtrack of people’s lives,” Tower said on the appeal of the show. “Everybody knows something,” he said, before listing such artists as Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder and the Temptations. “There’s a huge array of talent that came out of Motown. Everbody knows something.”
Long before ‘Motown,’ Tower was a student at Upper Dublin. While he did appear on stage as “Soldier No. 3” in ‘South Pacific,’ and in an equally small role in ‘The King and I,’ Tower said you had a better chance of finding him on the football and baseball fields and wrestling mats than anywhere else. After graduating in 1988, Tower began working at Fort Washington Estates for about six months before he decided it was time to make a move.
He was on active duty in the army for two years, got the GI Bill and was in the army reserve while attending classes at Montgomery County Community College. He then transfered to Temple University, where his mother taught, and began taking theater, appearing as Jesus in ‘Godspell.’ After graduation, Tower got a master’s degree from North Carolina Chapel Hill before landing his first big role as Matt Damon’s best friend in the Francis Ford Coppola film ‘The Rainmaker.’ Tower’s part, though, was left on the cutting room floor.
“That’s part of the business,” he said. “They shoot so much footage that they could shoot two films. You might not be able to see yourself.”
Soon he joined the cast of ‘Ragtime’ in Chicago, and the same role later opened up on Broadway, so he made the trip to the big leagues. Afterward, Tower said he began auditioning for ‘The Lion King’ “dozens of times” but kept getting rejected.
Finally in 2000 he tried again and landed Simba for the next six years. In 2009, he met Karen; the two eventually married and had a son.
After stints producing regional theater and working in other shows on and off Broadway, Tower said he went out for a part in ‘Motown.’
“They wanted Smokey Robinson,” Tower said. “I said, ‘I’m more of a Berry Gordon or a Marvin Gaye.’”
Tower said as a biracial man, he’s on the “end of an ambiguous stick … and there’s a rainbow of African-American people. I didn’t want to be type cast.”
“The director and I had a mutual close friend,” Tower said, “and I’d worked with the assistant director before.”
Now a husband and father, Tower decided it was “Broadway or bust” and sent in video recordings of himself as Gordy to the producers to prove he was right for the part. Finally, things paid off.
“It just worked out,” he said. “I don’t think I did anything different than before. It was just the right fit.”
Tower said he’s “completely stoked” about playing Gordy in the show.
“To get something at home on Broadway,” he said, ‘with an African-American pioneer like Berry Gordy is a blessing and a dream come true.”
For tickets to see Tower on stage, visit http://www.MotownTheMusical.com.
Follow Eric Devlin on Twitter @Eric_Devlin.