An Interview with Jarran Muse About his Role in Motown the Musical

Jarran Muse is Marvin Gaye in “Motown the Musical,” set to take over Denver, March 31 to April 19, at the Buell Theater at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

“Motown the Musical” is filled with back stories of legends such as Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson and a whole host of the motor city’s favorite stars. The uplifting show about how Motown broke down barriers for the nation follows writing impresario and founder of the Motown label, Berry Gordy, as he fights against the odds to turn his improbable dream into all singing, all dancing reality. Adapted from Gordy’s own 1994 autobiography, “To Be Loved,” this walk down memory lane features more than 40 classic songs in a two-and-a-half hour show.

Muse has worked on Broadway and in New York City-based shows like Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” and “Dreamgirls” as well as international tours for “American Idiot,” “Dreamgirls,” “Hairspray” and “42nd Street.” The New Jersey native is one of the few touring members of Motown that also had a chance to get his feet wet as part of the original Broadway cast, where he had a swing role playing more than one star. The Denver Urban Spectrum caught up with the 6-foot singer who earned the coveted role of bringing the songs and persona of one of the worlds most prolific and powerful singers and storytellers back to life. No small feat in the world-wind tour the cast is now experiencing. The show is booked through June 2016 – for now.

DUS: What was your reaction when you learned that “Motown the Musical” was going on tour?

Muse:  Complete excitement. I was excited and hopeful (to be part of it).

DUS: What did you do when you learned that you would be part of the cast and in a lead role?

Muse: In the Broadway cast I was a swing. My contract said you’re going to cover everybody from Marvin Gaye to Smokey Robinson. The buzz about (a possible) tour was going around for about a year. I didn’t get the role until February or March, just two or three weeks before rehearsal started.

DUS: How do you compartmentalize your roles and not bring out Marvin Gaye at your family reunions?

Muse:  I definitely feel that Marvin Gaye is part of me. It’s the actor in me that I can turn off. At the end of the day I’m just Jarran.

DUS:  With your various roles over the years, what has been your longest break?

Muse: About five months. I was getting a little nervous.  Some people have even larger breaks. You never know. You don’t really know where the next one (show) is coming from. You continue to pray. (You hit) the pavement, audition. It’s important to save money so that when you’re not working, you’re not worried about food just the next show. At end of the day it’s an easier struggle. I did work as an extra or background in TV and film.  A large chunk of my time was waiting tables, being a banquet server at different parties. You do the job to stay focus, keep money in your pocket.

DUS: Everyone likes to think they know all the moves of the Motown greats. You have had to perfect Marvin Gaye. How did you go about doing that?

Muse: We have Mr. Gordy. This is his project, his baby. He has knowledge. I haven’t seen Marvin Gaye live, but growing up in America you know. I talked one on one with Mr. Gordy and he left me pick his brain. Then add on the layers of videos and interviews I watched on YouTube and the archives. ..I listen to him in my pre-show routine in the dressing room. I feel connected to him.

DUS:  On your résumé you have a list of special skills, including stage combat, salsa and languages and accents from conversational Spanish to Jamaican and Indian. Is this skill set part of your life or did you make an effort to learn for certain roles?

Muse: I’ve always had the skills and joked around with them. I didn’t realize these special skills until trying out (for roles). There were certain auditions you would get immediately (with certain skills).

DUS: When did you know that performing would be your profession?

Muse: When I was a kid – 7, 8, and 9, I always saw myself in the Mouseketeers, Barney show. Didn’t know performing was a career option until high school when my teachers told me.

DUS: What was your first paying (gig) show?

Muse: My first gig was in Florida at the regional Stage Door Theatre. I was the immediate replacement for one of the tap dancers. I packed and was there the next day. That role lasted for three to four months. Then I was on a cruise ship for about a year and a half performing. It just kept going. Now this is my fifth national tour.

DUS: How did you find out about that position at Stage Door Theatre?

Muse: One of my best friends called me up and said ‘What are you doing? Can you fly to Florida tomorrow?’ Within a half hour the director had called.

DUS: So you tap dance too?

Muse: Yeah. I should list that as one of my special skills.

DUS: If you weren’t a performer. What would you be doing for a living?

Muse: Probably a chef, massage therapist or a personal trainer?

DUS: Entertainers get to do little sightseeing on the road with such tight schedules. But what is the coolest place you’ve been on tour?

Muse: Tokyo. I’ve been there twice while I was in “Hairspray” and “Dreamgirls.” I had so much fun and I am a huge fan of Japanese culture, technology, the temples, the people and the food.  In the U.S., Montana would be it for Glacier National Park. It’s picturesque. That’s big for me coming from Jersey.

Editors Note: For tickets to Motown the Musical visit http://www.denver-theater.com/theaters/buell-theater/motown-the-musical.php.