Produced, written, and directed by Jackie Taylor
Music direction by Robert Reddrick
At the Black Ensemble Theater, Chicago
Strange twist toward religious spiritualist frames the fine tribute to Marvin Gaye
Writer/director Jackie Taylor employs a strange religious framming devise to begin and end her perplexing tribute to the golden voiced smooth soul singer, Marvin Gaye. We meet a young Marvin Gaye at the show’s start who tells us that he was killed by his father but he also admonishes: “Don’t talk about my father, because God is my Friend.” Huh?
The bio-musical then tells the story of the shy, young drummer and backup singer, Marvin Gaye (1939 – 1984) who moves from doo-wop group “The Moonglows ” in the late 1950s to Motown R & B to establishing himself as the “Prince of Soul” with his tuneful smooth soul tunes. With solo hits such as “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)”, “Ain’t That Peculiar”, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Gaye’s mid-1970s included the albums, What’s Going On, Let’s Get It On, and I Want You, which helped influence the quiet storm, urban adult contemporary, and slow jam genres.
Rashawn Thompson, as Marvin Gaye, vividly depicts Gaye’s velvet voice and Thompson’s acting was nuanced and emotionally complete as he shows the plague of depression, drug addiction Gaye suffered as a result of emotional and physical abuse Gaye suffered from years of abuse by his father. Donald Barnes, as Marvin Gaye, Sr. was eerily scar and Yahdina U-Deen was emotionally wrenching as Alberta Gaye, Marvin’s long-suffering mother.
Robert Reddrick’s powerful orchestra was fabulous as they not only accompanied Gaye’s songbook but played scene-changing bumper music with vest and skill.
The razor-thin book only gave sketches in telling Gaye’s life story. With repetitive scenes depicting Gaye’s drug use, low self-esteem, womanizing and inconstant work ethic, we sure see Marvin Gaye’s personal demons still left him the ability to accomplish outstanding musical success. We see both sides of Marvin Gaye – the smooth artist and the self-destructive flawed human often paralyzed by drugs and a painful past.
But, amazingly, after being told that Marvin’s father killed him, we are not told nor shown the particulars of that life-ending incident. A curious choice, indeed. Then playwright Jackie Taylor abruptly changes the tine with a spiritual, angst-ridden blues song, “Oh My God,” written by Taylor and powerfully landed by Yahdina U-Deen. The show finishes with a religious oriented spiritual tune, “His Eye Is On Sparrow” sung by the ensemble now dressed in white as if they were in heaven. Are we to believe that Marvin Gaye is in heaven despite the negative life choices he practiced including him becoming as troubled and abusive as his father? This curious ending is troubling but the two hours of Marvin Gaye songs are quite pleasing.
Editor’s Note: The new 299 seat venue on Sunnyside & Clark gives the Black Ensemble Theater a fabulous venue for live musical theater. The new facility has indoor parking, nice lobby space and concessions and a new 150 seat theater for the Black Playwright Initiative will open late fall. You’ll never be treated as friendly at a theater as you will be at Black Ensemble Theater!
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: May 20, 2012
For more info checkout The Marvin Gaye Story page at theatreinchicago.com
At Black Ensemble’s new venue at 4450 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL, call 773-769-4451, www.blackensembletheater.org, tickets $55 – $65, Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through July 29, 2012