Ever since he was accepted into a performing arts school in San Diego at the age of 12, Charl Brown’s great passion was theater. “I got bit by the theater bug and I’ve been doing it ever since,” says the actor. After studying theater at USC he toured in Europe playing Hud in Hair. “Then,” he adds, “I moved to the big city with the big dream of making it on Broadway.”
And that’s just what Charl Brown did, landing the role of Smokey Robinson in the hit show Motown the Musical — and receiving a Tony nomination. “I’ve been watching the Tonys since I was a pre-teen and to finally go to the Tony Awards — not only get to go, but as a nominee and performer — was a dream come true,” he explains. The icing on the cake has been the stamp of approval from Smokey Robinson himself. “Smokey’s one of the nicest people — he’s so sincere and passionate about what he does,” says Brown. “And now he calls me, Me. He’ll say, ‘Hey, Me.’ That’s validation.” Come along for a tour of Brown’s dressing room, full of Tony memories and the personal mementos he has received from Motown’s biggest stars.
Above left: I was nominated for a Tony in 2013 and I received a Tony Award nominee pin. I wore it the whole season leading up to the Tony Awards last year. I actually have this right in front of me on my dressing room table. It’s sort of hidden, but I know if I need to look at it, it’s there. Like when I need an extra burst of energy. Eight shows a week is hard, but then I look at that and realize that people are coming and seeing me for the first time. And so I have to go up there and give it my all. So that’s what helps drive me on the harder days.
Above right: Here’s a picture of me with a few of my close friends from that actual Tony Awards night. I have pictures of friends and family all over my dressing room, but this one in particular is special to me because that was one of the best nights of my life thus far. In fact, it was the best night of my life thus far. To get to go to the Tony Awards for the first time as a nominee and to get to perform and then to share it with my loved ones was something that is incomparable.
I have one of those Grether’s Pastilles before I go on stage to sing. It helps me moisturize my voice and gives me the confidence to go out there. Sometimes if I’m just feeling dehydrated or that my voice isn’t quite there, a little coconut water helps lubricate my chords. My favorite is the Vita Coco regular coconut water.
Above left: This is a copy of “To Be Loved,” one of the songs that Berry Gordy wrote for Jackie Wilson before he started Motown Records. It was one of the first songs he ever wrote. “To Be Loved” is also the title of his autobiography, which is what our show is based on. He signed a copy for all of us and gave it to us opening night. It really makes me feel like a legitimate part of the Motown legacy. It’s one thing to be portraying someone on Broadway and doing a show, but it’s another thing to feel like you are the next generation of this iconic record label and this iconic movement in music. To be validated by Mr. Gordy himself is very inspiring.
Above right: The picture of The Miracles from 1958 was actually sent to me from Claudette Robinson, who was Smoky Robinson’s first wife and also an original member of The Miracles. Claudette sent a care package of stuff [to the actress that plays her in the show] and that photo was included. I love seeing the original Miracles, so long ago. They were teenagers at that time of that picture. And then we get to actually go out and portray them at that stage into their success. And Smokey became a huge solo recording artist. He is on the far left holding the “HI.” The photo reminds me of the story I’m about to go tell.