Review: ‘Pride & Joy: The Marvin Gaye Musical’ at The National Theatre

Spectacular. Amazing. Unforgettable. Pride & Joy is a musical that tells the little known love story of Anna Gordy Gaye (January 28, 1922 – January 31, 2014) and the legendary and iconic R&B singer, Marvin Gaye (April 2, 1939 – April 1, 1984). It is a musical and multi-sensory experience par excellence. Director TJ Hemphill has put on a winning evening of music and story that will stir your emotions and shake your senses.

Pride & Joy. Image by The National Theatre.

Featuring 28 songs from Gaye’s Motown catalog, the musical stars Jarran Muse as Gaye in his early years, and Chae Stephen in his later years. The challenge in casting a musical like this is to find an actor that looks like Marvin Gaye and can sing. Muse and Stephen performed both talents exceedingly well.

Krystal Drake plays Anna Gordy Gaye and  Kourtney Lenton plays singer Tammi Terrell. Justin Reynolds and Bryce Pinchum play Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy, respectively.

In biopic style, this musical followed Gaye from his early years at Motown, singing popular R&B ballads centered on peace and love; to his protest songs (recorded over Motown founder Berry Gordy’s objections), to his later Grammy wins, and last days.

The spine of the musical centered on Gaye and Anna’s courtship, despite their 17-year age difference. In 1959, Gaye was singing in the group Harvey and the New Moonglows and Anna was the owner of Anna Records. She was also Gordy’s sister and a songwriter/talent developer (this musical depicted their meeting in Motown U.S.A.’s studio). She disdained Gaye at first. When Gaye tried to date Anna, her response was: “I don’t date the help!” The marriage was turbulent, a divorce, and a later reconciliation included.

Muse exhibited his prodigious talent in tunes such as “Stubborn Kind of Fellow (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah”, “Mr. Sandman”, and after he captured Anna’s heart, “Pride and Joy” (Gaye dedicated that song to her).

Pride & Joy. Image by The National Theatre.

Co-Producer/Co-Writer D’Extra Wiley exuded good stage presence as legendary singer Jackie Wilson. Pinchum looked and sang like Smokey Robinson. Melanee Felton, Kiko and Cherri Black harmonized well together as The Marvelettes, in an early scene with Gaye at drums.

Lenton and Muse were gorgeous together in tunes like “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” and “All I Need to Get By.” Gaye’s chemistry with Terrell caused friction in his marriage, causing Gaye to point out to Anna that he was “in love with the music we make…that’s the stage, we’re actors.”

Terrell, who passed away at 24 in 1970, had an emotional story arc in this musical. Muse played the pathos of a man who suffered a great loss after she died.

The stagecraft was phenomenal: a combination of scenery wagons and Las-Vegas-style projection, created a cinematic feel on stage. Storefronts, maps, newspaper images and video clips were projected onto overhead and stage left and right screens. This was all the remarkable effort of Lighting Designer Mike Brown, Atkins Event Productions, Video Content provider Sanders “Skip” Bryant,  and Video Editor Charles “SPUDD” Spence.

In Act 2, Stephen appeared onstage like a rock star. At this point in his life, Gaye’s focus was protest albums, featuring thoughtful numbers like “What’s Going On?” and “Let’s Get It On.” Gaye also ventured into the unfiltered soul of songs like “I Want You.” The highlight of this musical period for Gaye was “Sexual Healing” (for which he won Best R&B Male Vocal at the 25th Grammy Awards); Stephen killed the vocals and stage presence as he sang that and the other tunes.

Stephen was decked out in costumes that ranged from a denim jacket-and-pants outfit, to smooth-looking red sports jackets, thanks to Wardrobe Mistress Patty Turner.

None of the vocals would have worked without the banging band that was composed of Cordell Walton, Music Director/Keys; Phil Bates, Keys; Nick Behnan, Lead Guitar; Brandon “Showtime” Bland, Keys; Marcus Douglas, Drums; Michael Elder, Sax; Michael Harrington, Bass Guitar; and Saxappel (a personal one-word name), Sax.

Choreographer Tristan Andrew kept the ensemble moving to the grooves. Luke Dockery, who has danced with Usher and Ashanti, stood out with the crispness of his moves.

This musical will entertain you and affect you emotionally. Hemphill and Producers Quentin Perry and Keia Perry-Farr have created a magic trip down the musical memory lane of an incomparable artist–Marvin Gaye.

Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

Pride & Joy plays through May 12, 2019, at The National Theatre – 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, in Washington, D.C. Call the box office for tickets (800) 514-3849, or purchase them online.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent composition and explanation of a play that I just CANNOT wait to see!!! From Motown, my home, I am on the edge of my seat in shivers waiting until opening night when I view this enormously raved about play comes home to the “D”!

  2. Great show and performances! From the amazing dancers opening, Jackie Wilson’s energetic and flirtatious strong performance, to Smokey’s good and humorous performance…although I was missing his wife, who I’m sure was in the Miracles at that time, and Harvey Fuqua gospel styled singing made it fun and enjoyable. By the end of the first act, after Tami’s death, the strong gospel vocal performance by those four tenors had me in tears.
    The transformation to the social advocate Marvin was amazing.
    A couple of sound issues kept the show from being 100% perfect, but it’s better than most biopic musicals i’ve seen.
    Older Marvin pulls it off. The resemblance is right on point. Great casting choice…With time he can only get better and perfect it.
    For Marvin Gaye and Motown fans you won’t regret seeing Pride & Joy

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