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‘Motown: The Musical’ star marvels over role

May 26, 2017

The Tony-nominated “Motown: The Musical” returns to Philadelphia, playing at the Academy of Music, Broad and Locust streets, from May 30 to June 11. The engagement marks a homecoming of sorts for Jarran Muse, a Plainfield, N.J., native who attended the University of the Arts and appears in the role of the talented but troubled Marvin Gaye.

“Philly has always been a part of my life. Even growing up, we always used to go down to Philly, and I have a lot of family in South Jersey,” Muse said recently, as he and the cast enjoyed some precious downtime on a Boston Harbor cruise. “I love Philly, love University of the Arts. I have lifelong friends that I made there.”

During recent exclusive interview with The Philadelphia Tribune, Muse shared his intriguing and emotional journey of portraying the 1987 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee whose life ended tragically on April 1, 1984, a day before his 45th birthday.

Tribune: When did you join the cast of “Motown: the Musical?”

Jarran Muse: The very first workshop was in 2011, and I was with them off and on until 2013, and then we opened on Broadway in 2013. The first time we were on Broadway, I was a swing — I played everybody! And then, a year later, they launched the national tour and they hired me as Marvin to start the tour, and I’ve been Marvin over the last three years. So I was the original Marvin for the tour, and I’ve been Marvin ever since.

Tribune: When you joined the cast, did you go specifically for Marvin, or did you just want to be in the show?

Muse: Here’s the thing. When I first joined the cast, there was already a Marvin, and the funny thing was, the guy that was playing Marvin told me that I was more Marvin than he was — this was in the workshop. So when it opened on Broadway, it was actually down to myself and the guy who got hired for Marvin, and he got the job. I was the understudy/swing. As the year went on, they didn’t even want me to leave the Company to be Marvin (on the tour) because I was such a great swing, but at the end of the day, Mr. Gordy basically said, ‘We can’t hold him back. He’s Marvin. I can see it in his eyes. He’s the Marvin that I’ve wanted from the beginning.’ So they hired me as Marvin.”

Tribune: How did you get involved in the workshop? Was there an open call?

Muse: I’m sure there was an open call, but my agents got me the audition.

Tribune: You’re a young guy. Prior to being cast in the show, what did you know about Marvin Gaye?

Muse: People always told me that I reminded them of Marvin, and they told me that I kind of favored him. ...’You kind of look like a young Marvin Gaye. You should listen to his music, because you sound like him.’ But I really didn’t get in depth into his life until I was cast in the role.

Tribune: Did you watch videos of him?

Muse: Oh yeah! I watched anything that was available! I watched videos, YouTube clips, interviews, past performances ... but then, the biggest thing was Mr. Gordy. Mr. Gordy was his brother-in-law, so we had a lot of one-on-one time. We just went in-depth, and he’s a sponge and just loved giving me information ... ‘Anything you want to ask me! Anything!’ So I would just pick his brain for hours.

Tribune: As you know, Marvin was a very complex person. How did you go about preparing to play him?

Muse: Well you know, the funny thing is, I am also a very complex person, so the more I read about his complexities and about his insecurities and all those different aspects of him, I realized that there was so much more that was parallel than I thought. So it wasn’t like I had to go into this deep, dark place to pull Marvin out. He was just inside me all the time! So the more I realized the similarities, I just attached myself to that, and I think that’s why I’m so comfortable being in his shoes — because we are so similar.

Tribune: Is there any particular quality or trait that you wanted to emphasize when you played him?

Muse: I really like to get his passion. He was passionate about everything he believed in. A lot of people said that he was bipolar, so I did some research on bipolar disorder. Marvin would just flip at the drop of a hat, and literally go from zero to a hundred, and I like to portray that as well. He was a little bit of a hothead, he was very political. I don’t think he was abrasive, but it was a time when it was very black and white, and he had his opinions. I like to make sure that people knew that that was him.

Tribune: What does “Marvin” sing in the show?

Muse: He sings his first pop hit, ‘Stubborn Kinda Fella,’ and my favorite song, ‘What’s Going On?’ and then ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine,’ which is really hot, and then, the a cappella rendition of ‘Mercy, Mercy Me.’

Tribune: What would say was the most challenging part about playing him?

Muse: The most challenging part was just getting out of my own head and allowing myself to just be the actor that I am and embody him. I was so concerned with what everybody was going to say or think — or I wasn’t going to be enough or I was going to let people down, because Marvin fans are one-of-a-kind. They just love their Marvin, and I just wanted to make sure that I was doing it to the best of my ability. A lot of the artists are still alive, so they have a point of reference, but he’s been gone for so long, all I have is what’s out there on the internet, and books, and through word of mouth, so I never got to see him perform live. So it’s just getting out of my own way, and just allowing it to happen.

For tickets to “Motown: the Musical,” call (215) 893-1999 or visit kimmelcenter.org.