Please give a warm welcome to our newest PlayhouseSquare Blog contributor, Alicia Hansen. As part of our Broadway Buzz program, Alicia will take you behind the scenes of each KeyBank Broadway Series show and interview a member of the show’s cast, crew or creative team.
An Interview with Jarran Muse from Motown the Musical
by Alicia Hansen
As a child growing up in New Jersey, Jarran Muse found himself drawn to television shows featuring kids and knew then he wanted to be an actor. With his theater education starting early through community programs, studying at a performing arts high school, and later with a scholarship to the University of the Arts, Jarran worked hard to be the teacher professional he is today. In this interview, Muse shares his insight in playing one of America’s most prolific musical artists in Motown the Musical.
You perform the role of Marvin Gaye in the production of Motown the Musical coming to PlayhouseSquare this October. What was your process in preparing for the role of such an iconic individual in our musical history?
Preparing was a process, but it was a great process. Marvin Gaye is one of my all time idols. I wasn’t around on earth to hear him perform live, but Mr. Berry Gordy being a part of our project – from originally writing his book, “To Be Loved,” to creating the show, to being with us in the process – was a huge help.
Mr. Gordy and I had several one-on-one talks where he would tell me about the conversations he would have with Marvin and the type of person he was. Mr. Gordy had a very strong relationship with Marvin because he was his brother-in-law, so he knew him well. He would explain to me why Marvin was his favorite artist because he was so true and anything he was thinking is what he recorded. If you really want to know Marvin Gaye, you listen to one of his albums. That was him.
In our generation, we have this wonderful thing called YouTube where you can research so many different interviews, concerts and live appearances. Mr. Gordy even had rare footage that I was able to see so I could really capture the essence of his performance and how he spoke – both on camera and off camera. Getting to watch those, as well as reading his biography and talking with his family, friends and colleagues – there’s a lot of information on Marvin.
You mention YouTube and being able to watch those videos and to see his emotions and expressions. Do you find that any type of challenge in terms of performing his songs as him? Do you stick to the artistic choices that he made or do you have that opportunity to make any creative moments in yourself?
People are coming to see Marvin Gaye so it gets a little tricky. You definitely have to bring yourself to the character, but we all know that Marvin was a legend. I try as hard as I can to bring Marvin back, so I do try to have to bring “Marvin” to the stage, and not “Jarran.” I definitely have similarities to Marvin so some of it came naturally. I apparently sound like him in my normal voice, so that wasn’t hard.
As the musical is based on the story of Berry Gordy’s founding and running of the Motown record label and his relationships with those Motown artists, is there a story of Mr. Gordy’s that sticks out to you that helped to craft your choices in playing Marvin?
There’s a story about the song “Mercy Mercy Me.” Mr. Gordy did not want to release that song. He had a specific image for his artists in mind and he wanted to keep that image for the Motown label as a whole. He didn’t like political records or drug records – he was very much against that song. Marvin pleaded with Mr. Gordy to release that album. He finally convinced him by singing “Mercy Mercy Me” to him. That’s how he was able to change his mind.
This was just one of many examples of how Marvin and Mr. Gordy butted heads constantly. It was like a father-son relationship, even though it technically wasn’t. In the scenes where Mr. Gordy is with Marvin, those scenes are confrontational because Marvin wanted to be as different as possible. He didn’t care unless he got his own way. He was a stubborn kind of fella – just like that song.
There are more than 50 Motown hits in this production. Did you find those songs influence you – if so, how?
Absolutely! The more we built the show and I would hear which songs were being used, I was instantly brought back to the time I first heard them. When I was younger, I didn’t really “hear” the lyrics. I heard the music, but I wasn’t paying attention to what they were saying. Listening to the words in the rehearsal process and to see what is still happening in our times that we’re living in today, it made me realize a lot of the music and these artists were ahead of their time. A lot of what they were saying still holds true today, especially with Marvin. Marvin’s lyrics – they hold so much weight. With everything that is going on with the race riots in Missouri and what happened down in Florida, and different other situations that are going on across the country, I mean, what’s going on? Mercy mercy me! His lyrics today hold as much weight as they did in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Is there a Motown song you wish was in the show, or do you feel the music selected really encompasses what Motown was all about?
The songs they selected are spot on. I also know there wasn’t enough room for everything they hoped to include. When you have a catalog like Motown that spans 30 years and you try to squeeze all of that into 2 hours and 45 minutes – it’s impossible to include everything. I actually congratulate them for choosing the songs that they were able to fit into the show! When we ran the first previews of Motown the Musical, it was 3 hours and 15 minutes long. The first workshop was a 4-hour process. You have to remember: as an audience member, you don’t want to sit in a theater for four hours!
What makes Motown the Musical special, different or unique in comparison to other musicals?
This is the first show that I’ve worked on that is based on a true story. Me being not only an American, but a minority – an African American – and getting to know the history of how these artists really paved the way for all the other artists that came after them – that’s special. The icing on the cake was when we opened the show on Broadway, anyone who was ever involved with the record label that was still alive was invited to attend the opening night performance. All the artists, the family members, the sales reps, the distributors were flown into New York. They cried, they laughed and they remembered it all as they watched the show. We had a reception afterwards and they shared even more stories – all of those we couldn’t tell on stage because of time constraints. To hear from them and their perspective – all through laughs, smiles and tears – that’s special!
Motown the Musical comes to Cleveland October 3 – 19 as part of the KeyBank Broadway Series at PlayhouseSquare. For more information, please visit the show’s page on the PlayhouseSquare website.
Alicia Hansen is the writer behind Poise in Parma, a healthy balance blog for Clevelanders. A graduate of Baldwin Wallace University’s theatre program, Alicia is an events and marketing professional, a yoga teacher and proud Cleveland arts supporter. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.