Marvin Gaye was a legend in Motown and his tragic death in 1984 shocked and saddened his legion of fans – which includes, we suspect, just about everybody.
Now, almost 30 years later, there’s at least a little good news. It’s a play about the man and his music, told from the perspective of Marvin's sister, Zeola Gaye, called “My Brother Marvin.” Written and adapted for the stage by Detroit native and nationally renowned playwright, director and producer Angela Dunlap, “My Brother Marvin” runs February 12-17 at the Fisher Theatre.
NAACP Image Award-winning actor Clifton Powell directs “My Brother Marvin” and portrays the singer's father. The show presents the life of Marvin Gaye at different stages in his life. (Detoiter, Grammy nominated R&B Singer, actor and radio host Keith Washington and veteran urban theatre actor and R&B singer Anthony Grant share the title role.)
Emmy Award-winning actress Lynn Whitfield (“The Josephine Baker Story”) also appears in this production.
Although Mr. Powell is busy gearing up for this big show, he was kind enough to answer some of our questions about Marvin Gaye, this new play, and what we can look forward to.
Q: What did you learn about Marvin Gaye in the course of working on this production?
Clifton Powell: I had the opportunity to sit down with Zeola Gaye and learn. You know, I always thought Marvin was a deep guy. I always thought he was a spiritual guy. I just learned so much more about his life with his mother, with his father, and some of the contradictions about his relationship with his father, and some of his pain. But I also learned that, from his sister Zeola’s perspective, he was one of the nicest, most giving men that you would ever be around. He was a wonderful brother she said. He was just wonderful to everybody in the family and to all of his fans. He was a loving, giving soul, you know?
Q: What will Marvin Gaye’s fans like most about this show?
Clifton Powell: Well we’re calling this “My Brother Marvin, The Man Behind The Music,” and I think that a lot of people come expecting just to hear some of Marvin’s music and that’s not what we’re doing. We’re doing a show that is about Marvin Gaye, the man. So, they are going to learn a lot more about Marvin, the man. Some of the things Marvin went through we heard about as fans, but we didn’t really understand it all, you know what really happened in the house that night Marvin was killed. Some of the things Marvin went through in his personal life that we haven’t really been able to sort through, we can get the truth out. So having Zeola Gaye here with us takes it all to another level.
Q: Will people who aren’t already Marvin Gaye fans find something to like in this production?
Clifton Powell: Oh yeah. I think people are going to walk away truly inspired by this play ... truly touched by the message in this show. We’re not just focusing on his music. We’re focusing on Marvin Gaye, the man, and how wonderful of a man he was, how wonderful of a person he was, and some of the things he went through in his life. From his relationship with Berry Gordy, his relationship with his dad, his relationship with his fans, with his mom, with his sister Zeola, brother, etc. It is just a wonderfully eye opening piece about Marvin’s life.
Q: So if he was alive today, what do you think he would tell the Maxwells, the D’Angelos, the Ushers, and people like that?
Clifton Powell: I think he would say, "take care of your life and take care of yourself. Be true to your work...” I think he would tell the world to figure out a way to make peace with each other – black people, white people, Latinos, straight, gay, everyone. He would probably say, “Let’s just learn to love and accept each other and have ultimate spiritual respect for each other. He was a very spiritual person.”
Q. This play shows us at different ages. What characterizes the different phases of his life?
Clifton Powell: You know, his early life was his home life with his mother and father and growing up in Washington D.C. It was kind of tough. He had a tough childhood, and then we see Marvin, his early years with Motown. Then we see Marvin in the latter years, the things he went through with Anna and Janice, some of his trials and tribulations.
Q: And we see his death?
Clifton Powell: Yes.
Q. What consistencies will we see in each scene of his life or throughout the play?
Clifton Powell: I think we will see that Marvin was just a loving, giving person ... just a beautiful man. He had a beautiful spirit and he tried to share that not only as a person, but in his music.
Q: Do we see the spiritual side of Marvin displayed in all of the phases of his life?
Clifton Powell: Yes. We see a lot of Marvin and God in this play. In his early years, when he was at church, his middle years when he incorporated what’s going on, love, and God. Then we see it in his latter years, even as he begins to be in turmoil, so to speak.
Q: What would Marvin like best about this production?
Clifton Powell: I think he would really be happy with including Frankie and Zeola, and Jeanne, his mom, and his dad even in all of their colors. I think he would be happy that we got a chance to tell his real story and that we focused on him as a man and not just his music.
Q: Can we expect to hear Marvin’s music in this production?
Clifton Powell: We will hear original music inspired by Marvin Gaye and the musical era he influenced.
Q: Anything else that you want to add?
Clifton Powell: I just feel honored to be involved in this show. It’s an incredible spiritual journey to go on. Everybody in the cast has been so wonderful, and it’s just a blessing. That’s all I can say. Not just as an actor, but as an actor and a director going through the process being here, to learn about someone who I admired as a musician, and I didn’t know as a person, but to have his sister here and really give us the life and times of Marvin Gaye has been incredible.