Motown comes to Music City
Coming to TPAC this Tuesday, Motown: The Musical is a look back at one of the most popular genres of music and how it came to be. Based on the book by iconic creator of the Motown label, Barry Gordy, MTM is a look back at the genre of a generation. Premiering at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater on Broadway in April 2013, it will be gracing TPAC’s Andrew Jackson Hall for an eight-show run.
Jesse Nager plays the role of the legendary Motown artist Smokey Robinson. Nager, a seasoned actor who has performed with the likes of Patti LaBelle and Shania Twain, is best known perhaps for the very popular group The Broadway Boys, an all gentlemen’s revue of classic Broadway hits. The group is very popular on YouTube, so much so that they even have highly acclaimed albums. In anticipation of the tour coming to Nashville, I sent Jesse a few questions to learn more about him and his part in the show. Here’s the conversation:
You moved to New York at age 10 and eventually went to LaGuardia High School, the basis for the movie Fame. How did that prepare you for where you are today?
LaGuardia is an incredible school. While there is a huge focus on the arts, there is a bigger focus on WORK. Regardless of academic or artistic, they instill in you the importance of dedication, perseverance, and time. So no matter if you end up in the arts or not, LaGuardia graduates have impeccable work ethic.
You have a very thick background in music. You’ve obviously been exposed to many different sounds. What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
All kinds. My mother loved playing The Jackson 5 and The Beatles. I loved musical theater and Top 40. My dad listens to a lot of folk. My friends listen to a lot of gospel. I studied classical. So… all kinds.
You’ve been in several different shows, performed with world famous artists, and even have a musical revue group of your own to call home with Broadway Boys. Who have you enjoyed working with the most?
The most? Haha. That’s not fair. So many of them have been extraordinary. But honestly, I love when my peers blow me away. I love being in a rehearsal room and hearing people do things that I could only dream of vocally. The cast of MOTOWN is like that. And many of The Broadway Boys. Constantly inspiring me. But, I mean, singing at Madison Square Garden with Mariah wasn’t bad either. :)
With such an extensive performance background, is there one performance (be that a character, a concert, or what have you) that sticks out in your mind as your favorite?
Sure. I got to work on a Sondheim revue with all gospel arrangements by Billy Porter, Michael McElroy and James Sampliner. The show was cast with some of the best Broadway has to offer, Patina Miller, Leslie Odom Jr, Chuck Cooper, etc. And I’ll never forget the day Sondheim walked in to work with us. It was not only one of those moments you dream of, it surpassed expectation. Besides being generous and kind, he was so smart and knowledgeable…exactly what you would expect from someone of his stature.
You play Motown Icon Smokey Robinson. What was your favorite Smokey Robinson song before this show and is it the same now?
Tracks of My Tears. Always and forever!
How much did you know about Smokey Robinson before starting with this show?
I knew some, but I knew more about his performing work and much less about his work as a songwriter and place in MOTOWN. They are equally massive.
How much have you learned about the Motown genre of music, and has it inspired any of your work with Broadway Boys?
What I think makes MOTOWN not only catchy but sustains time is its heart. These people loved, worked, and cared so much about their music. I try to bring as much heart and soul as I can to everything I do with the Broadway Boys. MOTOWN artists and writers were always challenging boundaries and breaking the norm, and it has definitely pushed me in new ways with The Broadway Boys.
This show features so many different artists. Performers like Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Jackson 5, and many more. If you could have dinner with any of the people this show is based on, who would it be?
Oooh good question. Tough question. Michael Jackson probably. I want to know what went through his mind when he would sit down to work on music and translate records to the stage performances.
What is the one thing audiences should really pay attention to while watching the show?
The little things. This show has so many incredible characters and actors. Each one could have his own show. And while the story is very interesting and the music is unbelievable, there are a lot of side interactions and little moments that these incredible actors are able to bring to life. One of my favorites is Krisha Mercano, who plays Florence Ballard (the often misinterpreted member of Supremes who was replaced). She gives Flo such life and story, that you can see her frustration as Diana rises to the top and becomes a superstar. It’s not just about her drinking or being loud and angry. There is a real journey that this real women went through watching her friend slowly become more and more famous. And Krisha plays it perfectly.
Who inspires you most professionally? And who inspires you most personally?
Professionally it’s the Broadway folks that push boundaries like Billy Porter and Audra McDonald. Personally, my husband who is so real and keeps me super grounded.
Jessie is an incredibly talented entertainer. With a show that has scads of hits from so many well-known singers like Diana Ross, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, and many more, you know the rest of the cast is going to be just as amazing. Only a few tickets remain, so be sure to grab yours at www.tpac.org or at the box office. If you miss it though, you’ll have a chance to read my review here with Out & About Nashville!