I really can’t say enough about “Motown the Musical,” which is still playing at the Academy of Music on Broadway Philadelphia. I was impressed by mostly everything – the energetic performances, the beautiful costumes and stage design, and the fact that it was an approximately two-hour sing-along of classic Motown hits chronicling the journey of founder and business mogul Berry Gordy.
I chatted with the actor portraying Gordy, Chester Gregory, prior to last week’s press screening and more recently spoke with Mr. Jarran Muse – who gives a magnificent performance as the late, legendary singer/songwriter/musician Marvin Gaye. Muse has also performed on Broadway (NYC) in Motown The Musical, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, Dreamgirls, and has toured in American Idiot, Dreamgirls, Hairspray, 42nd Street.
How much interaction have you had with Mr. Gordy, or any artist related to Motown, and what was the best piece of advice you were given by them?
“We have had a lot of interaction with Mr. Gordy. He wrote this show and is one of the lead producers. This is his life story, so he holds it very close to his heart. We also have interactions with all of the living Motown legends. They come to see the show whenever we are close to them. They all told us they were so happy that we were keeping their legacy alive.”
You’ve portrayed on Broadway, and now this touring production, one of soul music’s most beloved and iconic artists, the late Marvin Gaye. What has been the most memorable fan reaction you’ve had since you started playing him?
“I love playing Marvin Gaye. One day, a lady was at the stage door while the cast was signing playbills and chatting with her group. She kept saying, ‘And that Marvin! Oh God, he looked just like him and sounded like him too! Oh, I just can’t! Where is Marvin?’ Someone pointed to me, as I signed her book, and said, ‘That’s him right there!’ She squealed so loudly, dropped all of her belongings, gave me the tightest hug and said, ‘Let’s Get It On!’ Definitely the best. (laughs)”
How much research did you do for the role, and what was the most surprising thing you learned about Mr. Gaye while doing so?
“I did a lot of research – reading books, watching videos of performances and interviews – and had a lot of one-on-one time with Mr. Gordy. Prior to that, I didn’t realize that Marvin grew up a preachers kid, and was an extremely shy person.”
You’re a Jersey native and graduate of Philly’s University of the Arts. What are you most looking forward to during this Philly tour stop, and what places will you recommend the cast/crew check out while they are in town?
“I actually want to portray Marvin Gaye in his life story. Marvin’s role in Motown the Musical is significant, but the world needs to really know how complex his life was. There has never been a Marvin Gaye story, and the time is now!”
And the time is also now for anyone who has yet to see this hit stage play, and for those who need to see it again! “Motown the Musical” runs on Broadway Philadelphia at the Academy of Music through Sunday, June 11. Tickets and info are available at kimmelcenter.org, and follow Jarran Muse for updates at jarranmuse.com.
Until next thought, Thomasena
Happy Memorial Day weekend MMT Fam! A few years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Motown founder and legend Berry Gordy, and his best friend the legendary singer/songwriter Smokey Robinson, and to say that I had a fan girl/out of time/space experience was an understatement! The only words I could speak, after Mr. Robinson decided to walk up to me and plant a kiss on my right cheek, were “Can we take a picture?” And he graciously obliged. I was a bit more articulate with Mr. Gordy after the event, which honored Gordy with the prestigious Marian Anderson award, and was able to state how much I adored him as a child and still to this day.
So, although it was a disappointment to me that both the screening of a movie that I’ve awaited forever – “Wonder Woman” – and a musical telling the story of Mr. Gordy and his founding of Hitsville, U.S.A. were on the same night, I really had no problem choosing the latter – “Motown the Musical.”
The musical, which broke Philly box office records back in 2015, returns for a two-week engagement starting this Tuesday, May 30.
Earlier last week, I chatted briefly with Chester Gregory, who is reprising the role of Berry Gordy after portraying him on Broadway last year, and he gave some insight into his experience with the production and his interactions with Mr. Gordy. Gregory’s Broadway credits also include Hairspray, Tarzan, Cry-Baby and Sister Act, and he has toured nationally performing in Dreamgirls and his one-man show The Eve of Jackie Wilson.
Let me start by saying I am a Motown “fiend!” I’ve met both Mr. Gordy and Mr. Smokey Robinson and went straight into fan girl mode. How much interaction have you had with Mr. Gordy, or any artist related to Motown, and what was the best piece of advice you were given by them?
“I am honored to say that I’ve had a lot of interaction with Mr. Gordy. He is very involved in our production, making refinements as he sees fit. Much like he did with actual Motown artists of that era. One thing I have learned is to never look down on your accomplishments. Keep them high and you will always be grateful for them.”
You’ve portrayed Mr. Gordy, who’s arguably a genius in the music industry, on Broadway and now this touring production . How much research did you do for the role, and was it intimidating to have him involved in the project?
“I have studied Mr. Gordy for several years. Honestly, it is a dream that manifests itself daily and, strangely enough, it’s not intimidating. I want to learn all I can from him so, when he gives notes, I aim to tap into his mindset and make sure I deliver that intention. As an actor, I’m excited to get notes – they can add depth to the work!”
Now, the MMT signature question is typically – If you could portray any artist, past or present any genre, on the big screen, who would it be and why. But I also know you’ve portrayed Jackie Wilson on stage. So, if there’s a different answer I certainly welcome it, but would also ask if it was a big screen biopic – what else would you bring to Mr. Wilson’s story that you couldn’t do with the musical/stage play?
“You are 100% right! It has been a dream of mine to portray Jackie Wilson on the big screen, and that is because film captures a moment forever, for future generations to see.”
In addition to acting and singing, Mr. Gregory is a songwriter and producer. You can follow him on social media @ChesterGregory and learn more about his work, and that Jackie Wilson stage production “The Eve of Jackie Wilson,” at chestergregory.com.
Now for the even better part! Want to win a pair of tickets to the show for Thursday, June 1 on Broadway Philadelphia? You must be subscribed to this website and send an email to email@example.com with the subject line “Motown” and describing your favorite Motown memory/song in the body. One winner will be selected and notified on Tuesday, May 30.
“Motown the Musical” opens on Broadway Philadelphia at the Academy of Music on Tuesday, May 30 and runs through Sunday, June 11. Tickets and additional information are available at kimmelcenter.org.
Happy Friday MMT Fam! I wanted to make sure you knew about the dynamic events our friends at The Mann Center have lined up through Summer 2017! From R & B artists like the legendary Diana Ross, Bell Biv Devoe, En Vogue and SWV, to classic rock like The Moody Blues, Steve Miller Band and Peter Frampton, to the 5th annual Reggae Festival in the Park, to classical with a movie twist like The Philadelphia Orchestra backing the hit films “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” and “Jurassic Park,” there is truly something for everyone coming up at the famed venue.
I’ve compiled a listing of several shows taking place, though it’s not exhaustive so check the full line up at manncenter.org:
Movies @ the Mann – For the fourth year, the Mann is elevating the movie-going experience by presenting four, full-length, feature films on its main stage with the world-renowned Philadelphia Orchestra, and The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia for the finale, performing the movie scores live while the epic films are viewed on three giant screens. The ever-popular Movies @ the Mann series returns in 2017 with the epic films: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King™ on June 24, Jurassic Park™ in Concert on July 22, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets™ in Concert on July 28, and La La Land on August 17.
As stated previously, this is not an all-inclusive list of The Mann’s events, so make sure to visit www.manncenter.org to get additional show and ticket information (and use any of the hyperlinks above to go to the ticket page for each show mentioned).
Let me know if you check out any of the recommended events, and make sure to get the kids out to some of those free events – especially Super Solar Saturday which sounds very cool! And if you haven’t seen Hidden Figures, it really is a great film (check out the MMT review by Darryl King’s here)!
Until next thought, Thomasena
Hey MMT Fam! As of today, you can pre-order friend to the site Eric Roberson’s latest EP trilogy entitled Earth, Wind, and Fire – now, y’all know I’m already excited based on the name (EWF fan for life)! And not only is Eric letting us receive each project before it’s release date, but we will be able to witness the trilogy’s creative process as it happens!
According to Eric, every demo, every song, every idea directed towards this trilogy will be shown and shared, because it’s his desire that we be a part of the process. The Earth EP is due April 22nd and the Wind EP and Fire EP are due in July and October respectively.
You can watch Eric explain it more in the video below, and click here to pre-order and be a part of the movement.
Jazz Bridge, an organization dedicated to assisting jazz & blues musicians in crisis in the Delaware Valley, premiered the first event in its 2016-17 Neighborhood Concert Series tonight. The series is scheduled to run through May of next year, and will take place within five communities in the Philadelphia (Center City, Cheltenham, and Roxborough) and New Jersey area (Collingswood and Willingboro).
MMT missed out with giving the heads up for tonight, however the next event is scheduled for tomorrow, October 6 – the first in the First Thursday series at the Collingswood, NJ location – and features Edgardo Cintron and the Cintron Band. All concerts are scheduled to start at 7:30 pm and are $10 general admission ($5 students).
To get the full event schedule and learn more about Jazz Bridge, you can go to the official website here.
And get a preview of Edgardo Cintron and his band here:
Happy Sunday MMT Fam! In honor of Black Music Month, our friends over at Philash Entertainment Group and The Artists United, along with the African-American Museum, are once again hosting a celebrity-led panel discussion this Tuesday, June 14.
The event is sponsored by I.C.A.R.E Academy and Main Course PHL Magazine, and will take place at The African-American Museum of Philadelphia – located 701 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102. Panelists include:
Kindred The Family Soul
Helen Scott of The Three Degrees
Moderators for the evening will be “Mother of Black Music Month” Dyana R. Williams and vice-president of the Philadelphia chapter of the Recording Academy Ashley Scott. Doors open at 6:00 p.m. and the event will begin at 7:00 p.m. For ticket information and RSVP go to www.blackmusic365.com and the official website www.soulfulsoundsseries.com
Last Thursday, I was devastated at hearing the news of the passing of Prince Rogers Nelson. A co-worker interrupted a few of us conversing and laughing at lunch, and completely changed the tone in the room. Silence. Shock. Disbelief, as I quickly grabbed my phone to hop online and dispute this nonsense that must be some kind of hoax…but unfortunately ended up confirming the truth. A legend had left us too soon.
It’s taken me three days to try to put words to paper and reflect on why I am so distraught with this. I have been a Prince admirer for most of my life, and own a significant amount of his catalog, but if I am honest should admit that he isn’t in my top three when I list my musical influences/favorites. Yet, I was extremely saddened and mourning immensely at the news of his death. Until it dawned on me that Prince is one of the musicians/performers/artists who completely shaped the soundtrack of my life and was a comfortable constant to say the least.
Tell me why at 8-years-old, I was singing along to Prince’s Controversy and completely feeling his frustration with innuendos, rumor and the need for folk to let him be and be himself. I heard the freedom cry and proclamation that he, like everyone else, was a child of God.
I think of one of my childhood besties, Aaliyah, who is the consummate Prince fan and whose Aunt Muffin – who may or may not have had too much to drink at one of our Chesapeake Bay dinner runs – decided to turn the car radio up to full blast when “Controversy” came on and proceeded to elicit a car party down the Roosevelt Boulevard. You know the type of car performances where the passengers in every vehicle you pass look over like, “What are they listening to?” except in this instance they actually heard it!
And don’t get me started with the movie Purple Rain! It is absolutely an all-time fave, can’t even count the number of times I’ve seen it, and the titular song is my favorite Prince tune. I cannot watch the movie without reliving the joy and excitement I felt as preteen Thomasena – watching Prince and the Revolution, Apollonia 6, The Time and those amazing performances on the big screen for the first time.
Prince gave me refuge and therapy through the radio in middle school and high school, encouraging and motivation to avoid life traps and keep it moving with tunes like Let’s Go Crazy, Pop Life, and Sign O’ The Times. He literally dropped an album during each of my college undergrad years – and I became more appreciative ( 😉 ) of his more sensual offerings. And he dropped those gems I adore (no pun intended) – Diamonds and Pearls and The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.
There’s so much I can write – so much I’ve left out, including the Batman soundtrack – OMG, I had the cassette tape and must have popped it, I played it so much! I can talk about never seeing him live, until he presented Tamar (not Braxton) back in 2006 at the Electric Factory in Philly – and how I was so hyped thinking he would sing at least one song – yeah he did…and it was Partyman! I mean I dug the Batman soundtrack and all, but not Purple Rain? LOL, even though I was crushed, I saw him live, up close and in the flesh and I’m so grateful for that opportunity.
There have been many pieces written about his life, death, artistry and musicianship since Thursday – and I must have consumed at least a good 3/4th of them as I sorted out my feelings on his transition. Out of all the things I’ve learned, the most impressive – and I dare to say the most important – was the life of service Prince secretly lived and the contributions he offered to many. For those who were die-hard fans, or even to those who weren’t but were mindful of his lyrics and his spiritual lifestyle like myself, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Prince was putting into practice what he often – and sometimes subtlety – preached in many of his songs.
Scripture tells us to whom much is given, much is expected. I pray that Prince is at peace and has been greeted with a well done at his resting place.
Thank you Prince for the beautiful memories, and the motivation to do and be better – not just for myself, but to and for others. What a gift you were to this world.
I have adored Carol King all of my life. One of my songwriting muses, she is one of those writers who drew me in with catchy melodies and honest lyrics, whose emotions were so powerful even my toddler spirit was called to join in song. That’s the magic of Carol King. And I dare you to play any of her hits in a crowd, and not elicit some form of group sing from several gathered – her stuff is just that infectious.
And infectious certainly describes the experience Tuesday night at the opening of BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROL KING MUSICAL on Broadway Philadelphia at the Academy of Music. The production is a jukebox experience that follows the story of King’s rise to superstardom – from her teenage aspirations to become a songwriter, to her collaborations with former husband Gerry Goffin, to her setting records as one of the most successful solo artists in music history – with her landmark album “Tapestry.”
The play is also a clever synopsis of King’s life behind the music – including her marital joys and pains – and involves several key characters, including friends and fellow hit makers Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil whose music is also prominently featured, and smartly placed, in the production.
Lead actress Amy Mueller is remarkable as King, appearing in almost every non-group (e.g. The Shirelles, The Drifters) related scene while simultaneously balancing dialogue and song – and her vocal range is amazing. All of the cast’s voices were impeccable – and the actors who portrayed The Shirelles (“Will You Love Me Tomorrow), The Drifters (“Up on the Roof”), Little Eva (“The Locomotion”), The Righteous Brothers (singing Mann & Weil’s hit “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”) and Janelle (One Fine Day) really brought the house down with their performances.
Other parts of the production that really wowed were the stage production and costume designs. The audience literally watches the outfits donned by The Shirelles and Little Eva transform in front of our eyes – much like the set that readily changed from living rooms, to office spaces, to studios, to the final Carnegie Hall scene in a matter of seconds.
I highly recommend anyone in the Philly area that enjoys great music, especially fans of Carole King, to see this play before it leaves the Academy – now playing through April 3. Tickets start at just $25 and it certainly will be money well spent.
Until next thought, Thomasena
When I met Eryn Allen Kane, moments before her first show in New York, I had one question for her. I knew she was from Detroit, and resides in Chicago. As a fan of blues and soul music, I asked her if she felt intimidated or burdened by representing the musical legacies of those cities. Ms. Kane, small, soft-spoken and easy to smile, understood where I was coming from. I could tell that she instantly felt the weight of my arrogant question. I can paraphrase her answer with a simple “no”, but that doesn’t convey the confidence with which she took to the stage. Faced with a full capacity crowd, literally from the door to the balcony, the diminutive singer reintroduced the full-throated sounds of The Great Migration to an audience that knew what they were coming for – without asking questions. It was all show and prove; an hour of loud answers, hand claps and call and response.
Two days and eighty-five miles separated the times I saw Eryn Allen Kane perform; New York (Rockwood Music Hall) and Philadelphia (Milkboy), respectively, which she admitted were only her second and third live shows. Her mother, who had driven up from DC this Thursday night would attest to this, though this writer, and everyone in attendance would never believe that. It just wouldn’t be believable. The nearest non-music comparison I can use to explain the scary potential of the Detroit born singer is Tim Duncan, the soon-to-be NBA Hall of Famer. It’s said that he didn’t start playing basketball until high school. He developed an unflashy, consistent beauty to his game that will be his legacy. Projecting forward, I’ll one day reflect on these two performances I witnessed, her second and third, and know we’ll have seen the birth of an all-star. The Philadelphia show was a modern set of burners, which Kane delivers with the wit and charm of a seasoned vet, while buoyed by a young vigor that makes blues fresh.
The close of her show naturally left the audience wanting more. She confided to me after that she didn’t have an encore song prepared, so she relied on her go-to karaoke song, “Hit The Road, Jack”. It’s important to remember that this song, originally written by Percy Mayfield in 1960 became famous after being performed by Ray Charles. It has since been used in movie soundtracks, commercials retirement parties – it’s part of the American landscape. So, there’s almost an element of camp to choosing such a song at a karaoke event. It’s instant fun. But, given to a prodigal talent like Ms. Kane, the well-known song is transformed into a hard blues romp, Chicago-style, of course, and slack-jawed two people standing beside me. She said to me afterwards, “I said to the band, let’s play it. They know the blues, and it’s just blues.” Welcome back, blues and soul. We missed you.
Craig Carpenter is a filmmaker and photographer based in Philadelphia and New York. He has worked in commercial production, feature films, concert and music videos. His photography has appeared in the MMT post “The Life Celebration of radio legend and activist E. Steven Collins.”