To say I met “Marvin Gaye” would be a disservice to the originally talented Bryan Terrell Clark, who plays the music icon in the Tony nominated “Motown The Musical.”
Sure Clark has Gaye’s smile. In meeting him it turns out that’s not acting, it’s a gift. But Clark does feel a strong connection to the singer as they both have a penchant for wearing hats, are both Aries and drink a lot of coffee. Most importantly, though, Clark enjoys being compared to Gaye because, like the Motown legend, Clark wants to be more than a pop star. He wants his music to means something.
Sitting down with Clark, I felt a connection with the singer/actor who made his Broadway debut with “Motown The Musical.” The two of us finished each other’s sentences and felt like old friends catching up. While I don’t think this bond was one sided, still Clark makes one feel at ease, even while looking at his handsome face with the smile of Marvin Gaye.
Clark’s career is a mix of likely 80% talent and 20% who you know.
Sure he went to the Yale School of Drama, but Clark is also the god son of Oscar nominee Angela Basset and friends with Tony Winner (for “Kinky Boots”) Billy Porter. With connections and mentors like this, you might get a door opened. But an open door is just an invitation to visit. It takes a lot of talent to turn this visit into a home.
It’s highly unlikely that the producers of the heavily touted and expensive “Motown The Musical” are going to entrust a performer to take on Marvin Gaye because he knows and has worked with Angela Basset. Clark won the role because, when you see the show, there is no one else who can play the part with such compassion, strength and expression.
Clark actually wasn’t the first choice when the show started workshops a long time ago. He was cast as a Temptation. But as it happens in the theatre, something happened to the original Marvin Gaye and Clark had to step in. “I promise I didn’t sabotage the other actor like in ‘All About Eve’,” Clark jokes.
While Clark now does love musical theatre, he didn’t grow up a fan of musicals. “I didn’t even know who Stephen Sondheim was,” he admits. But Clark said in talking with his friend Porter, he discovered a fondness for musical theatre and up until that time he likely “hadn’t seen shows being done well.”
“Motown The Musical” follows the record label through decades of different musical styles and fashions. Clark alone has at least three wig changes in the crowded backstage of 42 or more professionals representing the legendary music label. In the show, Marvin Gaye is asked to choose between being a pop star/sex symbol or activist. I posed the same question to Clark.
He paused for a moment. Really giving it some thought. “If you asked me in January I would definitely have said I want to be a pop star and a sex symbol,” says Clark. But since then things have changed.
Clark lost a cousin earlier this year as he got stuck in a crossfire outside of a club. “All he was doing was going to charge his cell phone.”
He says that after dealing with the grief, he was almost ready to shirk his desire to go up the professional latter and instead see what he can do about anti-gun initiatives.
Then it came to him – a way to turn bad into good. “Besides being in ‘Motown,’ I have a big musical showcase coming up with an A-list red carpet of attendees that may be able to help me with my career.” While that should be enough to occupy his mind, he keeps wondering how he can use all of this to help with anti-gun awareness.
“So,” he says, “to answer your question. I would choose to be a pop star because when you become a pop star, you have a platform and then people will listen to what you have to say.”
With the incredible talents of Clark, we’ll likely be listening for quite some time.
“Motown The Musical” is playing at New York’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. Get more information and tickets at www.motownthemusical.com.