“Pride and Joy: The Marvin Gaye Musical” played this past weekend at Patricia & Art Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric in Baltimore, Maryland. This is a touring company, and it will be appearing in other cities in the near future.
The Story and Book is by Marvin Gaye III (son of the famous, late R&B singer, Marvin Gaye) with Co-Writers D’Extra Wiley and Angela Barrow-Dunlap. The performer’s son, Quentin Perry, and Keia Perry-Farr, and Wiley are Executive Producers. Gaye II, Perry and Perry-Farr are Co-Presenters. Barrow-Dunlap and TJ Hemphill are Co-Directors. Cordell Walton is Music Director.
The plot follows the life of Marvin Gaye (Jarran Muse and Chae Stephen) from the time he meets the woman who will become his first wife, Anna Gordy (Krystal Drake), later Anna Gordy Gaye. It opens at the Flame Show Bar where the great Jackie Wilson (D’Extra Wiley) is singing. It follows Marvin and Anna’s often tumultuous relationship until his death in 1984 at the age of 44.
It glosses over many of the darker parts of Gaye’s life. It barely mentions the age difference between Anna and Marvin. She was 17 years his senior. Anna was also the sister of Berry Gordy (Bryce Pinchum) who started Motown. Anna ran Tamla Records, the label Marvin recorded on for most of his career. Anna was his boss. The play deals with this part of their relationship (boss-worker) to some extent. Although Berry Gordy has a small role, it does not deal much with his relationship to his brother-in-law both before, during and after the marriage.
What it does is give those of us who are fans of Marvin Gaye a chance to hear his music and remember his legacy as an artist. There are over two dozen songs in this show, most of them written and/or originally sung by Marvin Gaye. This production actually has two Marvins. Jarran Muse plays Marvin up to approximately 1970 and Chae Stephen plays him from that point until his death. The reason is not just aging. Gaye changed his appearance from clean shaven to a beard around then. He also changed his style by doing some protest music and a lot more blues in his later works.
The change happened, according to this script, because of two events. Gaye had teamed with the young, attractive Tammi Terrell (Kourtney Lenton). They were famous for singing songs mostly by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, for instance, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. This musical pairing, again according to the script, caused Anna to become jealous, but, Marvin and Tammi always asserted that they were just good friends. Tammi collapsed in Marvin’s arms onstage. She was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. She went through treatment for about two years until succumbing to cancer in 1970 at age 24. Marvin was devastated. The final switch happened when his brother, Frankie (Wiley) returned from Viet Nam with PTSD. It was then Gaye risked his image and wrote, “What’s Going On” which became an instant hit.
If you are a fan of Marvin Gaye and the music from Hitsville, U. S. A., you will love this show. You will not be disappointed.
The show effectively uses some of Gaye’s own music to move the plot, especially the scenes with Anna. He sings “Stubborn Kind of Fella” to Anna while courting, “Pride and Joy” when he proposes and “My Mistake (Was to Love You)” when they divorce. Actually, the latter was written by Gloria Jones and Pam Sawyer and recorded by Gaye and Diana Ross in 1974.
The show is at its best when it features Marvin on his own. I saw Gaye perform back in 1966. Unlike almost all of the stars of Hitsville U. S. A. (Motown and its subsidiaries, including Tamla), he avoided going to the company school that taught stage dancing and how to act on stage. He was, even then, very sexy and hit a very emotional chord with the audience. He was one of the only Hitsville artists who performed on his own at the time and did not have a routine. It made his performance very powerful and memorable.
The other highlights of this production are his songs with Terrell. The two actors help create that connection that the two had on stage and off.
There are several notable numbers that were not written by Gaye, beside the Ashford and Simpson numbers with Terrell. They include “The Twist,” Jackie Wilson’s “That’s Why (I Love You So)”, Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me,” Smokey Robinson’s “Shop Around” and two spirituals and others.
Gaye won his first Grammy with the song, “Sexual Healing,” and the show included a fine recreation of the Emmy Award performance and acceptance speech.
Jarran and Stephen bring life to their performances. Both men capture his sexuality, talent and, occasionally, his mental torment.
Drake’s Anna Gordy Gaye is also believable, and we have no trouble understanding Marvin’s attraction to this dynamic woman in a very male world of music recording. One small issue is that, although Marvin ages, Anna does not. Drake is so attractive that I did not really pick up on their age difference. She was in her late 60s at the time of his death. Drake never looks much older than 30 years of age.
Other notable performances are Tony Grant as Harvey Fuqua, Gaye’s friend and early promoter, D’Extra Wiley as Jackie Wilson and Marvin’s brother Frankie, Justin Reynolds as Smokey Robinson, Nu Nu Thurman as Gwen Gordy, Jennifer Slaughter as Loueye Gordy, Demoli Harris as Esther Gordy and Bryce as Berry Gordy.
There are great backup singers, talented dancers (choreographed by Tristan Andrews and assistant Angela Blocker-Loyd) and a fine R & B Band led by Walton. I like the use of projections to move the background from nightclubs to the family homes to concert venues and even the Grammy’s. It helps move the action along and reduces confusion as to time and place. Video Director is Patrick Hale, Video Lead is Oliver Donaldson and Video Content is Sanders “Skip” Bryant.
If you are a fan of Marvin Gaye and the music from Hitsville, U. S. A., you will love this show. You will not be disappointed. Catch “Pride and Joy” if you can as it tours the country.
Running Time: Two hours and 35 minutes with an Intermission.
Patricia & Art Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric is located at 140 West Mount Royal Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland 21201. Check the link for upcoming shows.