Berger has been the Temptations’ manager for 56 years and is the executive producer of the Broadway hit, Ain’t Too Proud, now playing at the Detroit Opera House through Aug. 28.
August has been a banner month for Shelly Berger.
“I’m just glad I lasted to the age that I am,” joked the newly turned 84-year-old.
On Aug. 2, Berger had a small dinner party for his birthday in his hometown of Beverly Hills, Calif. The guest list included two Motown luminaries: Otis Williams, the sole surviving member of the Temptations, and Berry Gordy, Motown Records founder and Berger’s boss for 15 years.
“Berry has been very careful about leaving his home since the pandemic because he’s 92 years old. But, sure enough, there he was showing up for my party,” says Berger, who has been the Temptations’ manager for 56 years and is the executive producer of the Broadway hit, Ain’t Too Proud, now playing at the Detroit Opera House through Aug. 28.
“Of course, Otis and I share everything together,” adds Berger, who calls Williams first thing every morning like clockwork. “But here was B.G. walking in with all of his handlers, promising them that he would only stay for 10 minutes and, three hours later, he was still there. That’s always been the case. There I was with best friends 1 and 1A. It’s always a wonderous night when I can share it with B.G.”
Back in 1966, when Berger was 27, Gordy hired Berger to run the Motown Records Los Angeles office. Gordy was initially skeptical of the “White, Jewish particularly” guy — a line that would eventually end up in the award-winning musical Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations, which features the Shelly Berger character.
In fact, after wondering how Berger could possibly make good on all his production promises, Gordy told his Jewish lawyer, Ralph Seltzer, “Berger’s either the biggest liar or he’s on drugs,” recalls Berger. “But on a Las Vegas trip for two weeks, that’s when the love affair started with B.G.”
Reassured of Berger’s talents, Gordy gave Berger the opportunity to manage the Temptations and Diana Ross and the Supremes. And the rest is literal history.
Bringing it “Home”
On Aug. 10, during a red-carpet premiere at the Detroit Opera House, Williams and Berger finally — after the pandemic delay — brought their Ain’t Too Proud musical home to the Motown-loving crowd. Joining the duo in the celebration was award-winning playwright and Detroit native Dominique Morisseau who wrote the book for Ain’t Too Proud.
Based on Williams’ 1988 memoir, Ain’t Too Proud follows the Temptations’ incredible journey from the streets of Detroit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The show features many of the Temptations’ 42 Top 10 Hits and Tony award-winning choreography by Sergio Trujillo.
“This show was the culmination of many years of dreaming and working and putting it together. We were extremely successful when it ran on Broadway, but you’ve got to make it in your own hometown. And Detroit had an extra-special meaning that night,” said Berger, who attended the premiere with his daughter, Linda, a casting director.
While not at the premiere, Berger’s son, Josh, is a producer on Ain’t Too Proud. And although Berry Gordy didn’t attend Josh’s bris over 56 years ago, Gordy is Josh’s godfather.
“Anything that my kids are involved in is very, very important to me,” Berger says. “Motown is very important to Josh, and when we started working on this project, he very much wanted to be a part of it.”
Berger had day-to-day involvement with the creation of Ain’t Too Proud, including meetings with Morisseau to discuss Berger’s history and friendship with Williams, Gordy and life with Motown. Berger also meets with each actor who plays the Shelly Berger character to discuss life through the Motown experience. On this first national tour, Reed Campbell, a University of Michigan acting grad, plays Shelly Berger.
“Watching the show is kind of an out-of-body experience,” says Berger, who’s seen Ain’t Too Proud about 150 times. “Shelly Berger is not me; it’s a character in a play about the Temptations. It’s not a documentary, it’s an entertainment piece. I love to have the audience feel the emotions that people have felt for 56 years when they watch this group and the human feeling and the toll that it took to happen.
“From my perspective, the greatest part of my life has been being involved with Otis and the Temptations and Berry Gordy and Motown, adds Berger. “The greatest joy of my life is to be able to achieve what we have achieved.”
Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of The Temptations will be performed at the Detroit Opera House through Aug. 28. Tickets are available online at Ticketmaster.com, by phone at (800) 982-2787 or in person at the Fisher Theatre Box Office. For more information, go to www.broadwayindetroit.com.