Theater Review: ‘The Marvin Gaye Story’ — a tale of adversity and musical genius

By Edith McCauley
Theater Critic

Jackie Taylor, director of The Marvin Gaye Story at Chicago’s Black Ensemble Theater, has produced, written and directed the amazing story of Marvin Gaye and his musical talent that remains such a part of his gift to us all. Taylor says, “Writing the story of Marvin Gaye was one of the most difficult scripts that I’ve ever done.”

His family history included abuse and misunderstandings that went back generations, and the effect on him was devastating. In spite of these difficulties, his talent and musical ability became a gift to us all.

Rashawn Thompson creates the character and music of the ’60s and ’70s that enchanted the entire audience. There wasn’t a moment in the entire production that their response wasn’t completely enthusiastic.

Taylor has cast this production perfectly. As Marvin’s mother, Alberta Gaye (Yahdina U-Deen) battles to protect her children from the abuse of Marvin Gaye Sr., played by Donald Barnes. U-Deen’s final lament at the tragic finale, “Oh, My God,” written by Taylor, is absolutely heart-wrenching.

Many in the cast play multiple parts, and their musical ability is apparent in every scene. Rueben D. Echoles, a member of Black Ensemble Theater for more than 12 years, plays Freddie Hill and is associate artistic director, resident choreographer and wig stylist. Lawrence Williams is Frankie Gaye; Melanie McCoullough is Janis Gaye; and Katrina V. Miller is Anna Gaye.

Marvin Gaye begins his career with Harvey Fuqua (Lyle Miller). Early on, they go to Detroit and become an integral part of that musical scene. Barry Gordy and Smokey Robinson soon motivate Gaye to record and write the music for which he became famous.

Rashaad Hall is Smokey Robinson, and ensemble members Dawn Bless, Stori Johnson, Cory André Wright, A’rese Emokpae and Lisa Beasley complete the stellar cast. The show runs more than 2 1/2 hours, but the ability of the cast to interact with the audience keeps everyone completely focused.

In her director’s note, Taylor relates a bit of her personal history and reveals the dream that came to fruition with the completion of the Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center. Technically, it is state of the art, and the outreach programs make it an asset to the entire community.

The Marvin Gaye Story plays through August, and opening in September, One Name Only (A Tribute to the Ladies of Soul), begins the fall season. The Other Cinderella, Taylor’s classic, opens in November, and January 2013, Amaru (The History of Tupac Amaru Shakur), brings “Gangsta Rap” to the stage.

For more details, call (773) 769-4451. The theater is at 4450 N. Clark St., Chicago.

From the July 25-31, 2012, issue

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