There was just something about Marvin Gaye. Within his music and his demeanor and his heart, fans could feel his happiness and his pain, his sadness and his joy.
We could always see his soul.
And it’s this soul that’s channeled by actor Jarran Muse, who stars as a young Gaye in “Pride & Joy: The Marvin Gaye Musical” opening June 19 at the Chicago Theatre.
“[Motown founder] Berry Gordy has always told me he could see Marvin Gaye through my eyes,” said Muse, who was chosen by Gordy a few years back to play the iconic singer in “Motown the Musical.” “And ever since I have started playing him, I’ve felt an almost spiritual connection to him.”
“It’s hard to explain but I truly feel that in a way, Marvin enters my body every time I get up on that stage,” Muse continued. “It’s almost as if I’m just the vessel for something so much bigger. It’s like he chose us to tell his story at this very moment.”
“Pride & Joy” tells the seldom-told story of Gaye and Anna Gordy Gaye, Barry Gordy’s sister. She and Gaye were married for 14 years, beginning in 1963.
“There is just something that happens to me during the scene where Marvin and Anna bring their [son] home for the first time, for example,” says Muse of the show, which features 28 songs from the Motown catalogue, including, of course, Gaye’s greatest hits. “I’m not a father. I mean, I just have a dog. But every single time, I feel every ounce of that moment for some reason.”
Muse said he can’t find a moment in which the spirit, the soul and the music of Marvin Gaye has not been integral in his life.
“I was always a huge fan of him,” said Muse, who has also performed in productions such as “Green Day’s American Idiot” and “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.” “On Saturdays, we would listen to Motown, and that’s really what I grew up on. I always had people telling me that I reminded them of a young Marvin Gaye.”
Despite the constant comparisons, Muse still had to master the complicated persona of a very young Gaye, who would pass away tragically at the age of 44.
“I not only read every book but I studied every video of him,” Muse said. “I like to call it YouTube University. [Laughs] Berry [Gordy] is always so good in the way he wants us to pick his brain with questions so we can understand [the music and era] better.”
It was a somewhat complex time not only in the history of America, but in the history of Gaye and Anna, who is played by Krystal Drake.
“She was just such a strong, independent woman,” said Muse, who is joined in the production by Chae Stephen, who portrays the latter-day and more troubled singer. “I mean, here is a black woman in the late ’50s owning her own record label. It was unheard of back then.”
And yes, all these years later, it’s this story that many still need to hear.
“Love conquers all and it will always work if you believe in it,” Muse said. “It’s that simple.”
Tricia Despres is a local freelance writer.