Made of Shade: All About Motown the Musical
If you are of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, you had the pleasure of witnessing the rise of Motown Records. The Motown sound became the sound of America. White folks, Black folks, Asian folks and everyone in between danced to the funky sounds of artists like Smokey Robinson, The Supremes, The Temptations, Four Tops, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, The Marvelettes, Stevie Wonder, Teena Marie, Jackson 5 and Marvin Gaye.
Motown was more than just a music empire; the cultural influence of it was strongly evident through the mimicking of fashion, glamour and even hairstyles worn by some of the artists including the fabulous Supremes.
Now, “Motown The Musical” is widely popular and garners thousands upon thousands of fans to witness a legacy come alive on Broadway.
In this week’s edition of “Made of Shade,” I sit with one of the show’s stars, Bryan Terrell Clark. Clark plays a man that was not only a popular artist, but also one who was not afraid to sing about his own inner struggles and that of people of color, Mr. Marvin Gaye. An actor as well as a singer, Clark has appeared on “CSI:NY” and “House of Payne.” He’s also worked with singers such as Mary J. Blige, Ne-Yo, Patti LaBelle, Maxwell, and Yolanda Adams.
Quassan: Motown has such a rich history and legacy attached to its name. One aspect of its success I find fascinating is the high level of crossover ability…
Bryan Terrell Clark: I think there are two things that are powerful about the crossover success of Motown. One is Motown found a language that is universal in the music that makes everyone move and dance. Regardless of the content, if you’re French or from South America, you would respond to the language. Motown found a musical language that broke barriers beyond gender, race and even age. Powerful! In terms of content, Motown wanted to make people feel good but they were not afraid to be relevant. The feel-good music and cultural relevance elevated the language of the music itself.
Quassan: My mother saw the show and felt the actors embodied the era to such a strong magnitude that one literally feels as if they are part of the journey.
Bryan Terrell Clark: Berry Gordy had his hands in every part of what the audience should experience, that’s one reason why audiences feel like they are part of the journey. He didn’t want to bring Broadway to Motown; he wanted to bring Motown to Broadway. Audiences experience a very authentic era on stage. Bringing authenticity to the performance is what we all bring as actors in the musical.
Quassan: You star in the musical as the legendary Marvin Gaye. Who was the real Marvin Gaye outside of stardom?
Bryan Terrell Clark: Outside of stardom, Marvin Gaye was a prophet, to be honest. He was someone who was ahead of his time. I believe he was extremely intuitive. He was able to have such a wide range of music because he was open as an artist to be a vessel, translating so many different types of music. His first album was his own version of a jazz album. He created groove music, social conscious music and sexual music. I think to create all three music types, you have to be that person. He wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable and transparent in his music.
Quassan: Marvin dealt with plenty of demons in his life such as drug abuse, violence, issues with his father and some also suggest he suffered from paranoia at the end of his life.
Bryan Terrell Clark: I think Marvin wrestled demons. I don’t think his demons were different than the issues people deal with today. I think the difference is Marvin was on the surface with his issues. Right now in mainstream entertainment, we are so much concerned with the personal life of an artist rather than the music. So now we’re seeing people in mainstream media having personal demons unveiled. Marvin was rare because he allowed you to witness his issues. Unfortunately, he passed away and was killed because of the conflict he had with his father.
Quassan: I would imagine if a person wants to become a famous singer but doesn’t and has a child that becomes the famous singer, the parent would be thrilled. Was Marvin Gayes’ father jealous that his son became such a huge star?
Bryan Terrell Clark: It was speculated that his father was jealous of his stardom. I studied the life of Marvin, read a lot and viewed a number of interviews with people that were friends of the family and it became clear the prevailing thought was his father carried jealous feelings toward his son. I believe with his father being a pastor he carried a level of performance propelling tension between the two.
Quassan: I think Marvin Gaye is one of the few R&B and Soul artists that have the ability to write songs that are reflective of social and political struggles that people of color face. Those songs in his collection are not over-saturated by preachy tone, but are constructed in such a way where you can listen, take the message and still jam to those tones.
Bryan Terrell Clark: Right! The remedy that is awesome about Marvin Gaye’s music is what I try to do with my music and that’s bring a message that is both honest and truthful without a preachy tone. You want your audience to be able to digest and receive your music. The best way to do that is to go back to the Motown formula and have music that translates regardless of what the lyric is. The work I aspire to bring forth is similar to the Motown formula.
Quassan: Out of everything that you could do in the world, how did acting become one of your callings?
Bryan Terrell Clark: I’ve been acting and singing for a long time. I started off singing because I grew up in the church. I performed in all of my church plays. I went to a performing arts high school and majored in acting while studying music as a minor. I graduated from Yale School of Drama with an MFA. When I arrived in Los Angeles, I entered the music business as a background singer. I also wrote songs for other artists. I feel blessed to live in a time where if I happen to only hone one skill, I’d be asked to do the other. A few friends of mine who are strictly singers are being asked to be in movies but they’ve never acted before. I have friends who are actors or models and then all of sudden they are in the studio with producers laying tracks. We live in a time period where the industry is conducive to what I naturally do.
Quassan: One of the many reasons I think the “Motown Broadway Musical” is so important is Black actors are working. What challenges do Black actors face as it relates to getting work?
Bryan Terrell Clark: Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! I could not agree with you more. One of the most amazing things about the Motown Broadway is that so many people of color get to be employed and work together. One of the challenges actors face is the lack of projects available for us to work. I believe scarcity can create tension because we have to wrestle over so few roles. With the idea of diversity that’s happening in film and television, we do have more people of color working but it’s still not a large number of blacks. It’s kind of like the token theory. When I was growing up, we had shows like a “Different World” or “The Cosby Show” where the majority of the casts were people of color. We even had romantic comedies where the majority of the actors were of color. It’s been a really long time since we’ve seen that in mainstream entertainment and it will be an even longer time before we see it on the great white way, which is Broadway. Motown Broadway is making its mark in history.
To learn more about Motown The Musical, click HERE.
Quassan Castro is a news and entertainment journalist. Follow him on Twitter @Quassan.