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On Stage: ‘Motown’ comes to Wilmington

May 1st, 2018

By Denny DyroffEntertainment Editor, The Times

Motown the Musical

The popularity of the “Motown Sound” has remained at a high level for more than 50 years. “Motown the Musical,” which celebrates Berry Gordy and his label Motown Records, made its Broadway debut in April 2013 on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, and its popularity has remained at a high level for more than three years.

“Motown the Musical” closed on Broadway a little more than a year ago and now is out on the road. The show’s National tour will visit the area for a six-day, eight-show run now through May 6 at The Playhouse on Rodney Square (10th and Market streets, Wilmington, Delaware, 302-888-0200, www.thegrandwilmington.org/the-playhouse).

The “Motown Sound” began in 1959 when Berry Gordy Jr. founded Tamla Records in Detroit, Michigan. One year later, the record company was incorporated as the Motown Record Corporation with the name coming from “motor” and “town” — a reference to the city’s link to the auto manufacturing industry.

Over the years, the “Motown Sound” became one of the most important influences in the record industry. With acts like Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, the Four Tops, the Jackson Five and Marvin Gaye.

Motown’s version of soul and rhythm-and-blues music created a crossover link that took the traditionally black R&B music to wider, more diverse audiences.

The hit musical “Motown the Musical” is devoted to that sound and its development.

“I’m honored to play the role of Diana Ross in this show,” said Trenyce, during a recent phone interview from a tour stop in Tennessee. “I like being able to bring to life her version of the story.”

Trenyce is an American singer and actress best known as a finalist on the second season of “American Idol” and for her work in musical theater. Raised in Memphis, Tennessee, Trenyce won one of the categories of the NAACP ACT-SO as a teenager and attended the University of Memphis on a music scholarship.

Motown played a huge part in the racial integration of pop music as a conduit that brought inner city music to the suburbs and as an African American-owned record label which achieved crossover success. The Motown sound became a major influence in all genres of American pop music.

In the 1960s, Motown was in full stride. The label, which was small in comparison to its West Coast and New York counterparts, placed 79 records in the Top Ten of the Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 record chart between 1960 and 1969. Despite many ups and downs since then, the label is still alive and is now a subsidiary of Capitol Records.

Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright, “Motown the Musical” is the true American dream story of Motown founder Berry Gordy’s journey from being a journeyman boxer to a top-level music mogul who launched the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and many more world-class musicians.

Featuring more than 40 classic hits such as “My Girl” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Motown the Musical” tells the story behind the hits as Ross, Robinson, Gordy and the whole Motown family fought against the odds to create the soundtrack of change in America. Motown broke down racial barriers and took listeners to a place where they all moved to the same beat.

The show’s arrangements and orchestrations are by Grammy and Tony Award nominee Ethan Popp (“Rock of Ages”) with co-orchestrations and additional arrangements by Tony Award nominee Bryan Crook (“Smash”) and dance arrangements by Zane Mark (“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”).

“Motown the Musical” is produced by SONY Music Entertainment Chairman and CEO Doug Morris and Motown’s “Main Man” Berry Gordy Jr.

In October 2002, Trenyce auditioned for the second season of the reality television series American Idol. She became one of the 32 semi-finalists. She was eliminated in the top 30 round, but judge Paula Abdul chose her as a “wildcard selection” to become one of the twelve finalists.

In 2004, Trenyce began to focus on theatre, playing roles in the plays “Not a Day Goes By,” “The Vagina Monologues,” “Soul Kittens Cabaret” and “Mama’s Sweet Potato Pie.” In 2006, she played the lead role of Deena Jones in the musical “Dreamgirls.” She made her film debut in 2008 and became the first American Idol contestant to headline a show in Las Vegas.

Trenyce originated the role of Portia in David E. Talbert’s play “Love in the Nick of Tyme” and performed in a 2009 North American tour of the musical “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”

From 2010 to 2013, she was the leading female vocalist in the revue “Thriller – Live” during a European tour and its West End run. She appeared in the 2013 comedy film “Kick-Ass 2” and then returned to London for an extended reprise of her role in “Thriller – Live.” In 2017, she starred in the cabaret production “Heart & Soul: Music of Whitney Houston, Dionne Warwick & Diana Ross.”

“I always wanted to play Diana Ross,” said Trenyce. “The first time I auditioned for ‘Motown the Musical’ was in London – but I didn’t get the part. I came back to L.A. Then, they were casting for the U.S. tour. I auditioned and got the role. It was all about timing.”

“My parents were singers and they were in a group that got attention from Stax Records. Then, they stopped and had me. There was always music playing in the house – a lot of Motown. I’ve been singing since I was two.

“When I was five, they needed someone to sing in a Martin Luther King, Jr. program and I raised my hand. After that showcase, I got a standing ovation. Riding home, I told my mom – I think I want to do this for the rest of my life.

“As I got older, I’d say that Whitney Houston and Brandy influenced me the most. In high school, I got the nickname ‘Little Whitney.’

“I went to college at the University of Memphis and had a double major – music and nursing. Then, I realized that I wanted to be a performer full-time.

“The next thing after that was ‘America Idol’ and the rest is history. Performing on ‘American Idol’ helped me face a lot of fears – fear of being imperfect, far of being judged, fear of learning music from different genres. I learned that if I can do ‘American Idol,’ I can do anything.”

That “anything” includes playing the role of an iconic performer like Diana Ross and nailing it night after night.

Video link for “Motown The Musical” – https://youtu.be/B91dRPIxyEw.

The show at the Playhouse on Rodney Square is running now through May 6. Ticket prices range from $80-$100.

Red Sun Rising

If you travel 120 miles southeast from Motown (Detroit, Michigan) to Akron, Ohio, you’ll find an entirely different music act to enjoy – Red Sun Rising.

The band is touring behind a new album and will bring the tour here for a show on May 1 at The Queen (500 North Market Street, Wilmington, 202-730-3331, www.thequeenwilmington.com).

Red Sun Rising’s new album “Thread” was released on March 3 (Concord Music/Razor & Tie) and the band’s current single, “Deathwish” is riding up Billboard’s Active Rock chart.

In addition, Red Sun Rising has offered “Fascination” as its second instant grat track.  The epic video for the song pays homage to Georges Méliès 1902 Silent film “Le Voyage dans la Lune” and shows off the band’s intricate detail to its musicianship with three-part harmony choruses and more.

“Thread” is Red Sun Rising’s sophomore album. The quintet’s debut LP “Polyester Zeal” was released in August 2015. The Akron-based band — Mike Protich, Vocals, Guitar; Ryan Williams, Guitar; Ricky Miller, Bass, Vocals; Dave McGarry, Guitar, Vocals; Pat Gerasia, Drums — has been together since 2006.

“We were putting songs together for ‘Thread’ when we were still recording ‘Polyester Zeal’,” said Protich, during a recent phone interview while the band was travelling between dates in Sacramento and Anaheim.

“I’m always writing. A lot of these original ideas started back then. Then, during two-and-a-half years of touring ‘Polyeser Zeal,’ the ideas developed – a riff here, a melody here, a chorus here.”

Red Sun Rising really gelled as a band when it was making ‘Thread.”

“When we started working on the songs in the spring of last year, we rented a cabin on a lake in northern Illinois,” said Protich. “We got snowed in there for two weeks with our engineers – Kevin and Matt Doherty. Then, we did another week at a studio in Michigan.

“Matt Hyde produced and engineered the record at Sonic Ranch, which is located in the middle of the desert near El Paso, Texas. We were down there for three weeks. We recorded the album pretty quickly.”

Produced by Hyde (Deftones, AFI, Porno For Pyros) and mixed by Jay Ruston, “Thread” continues to expand on Red Sun Rising’s concept of mixing different genres and influences to create a unique sound.

According to Protich, “This album feels like a rebirth. Although Red Sun Rising played 140 shows on our last tour, it was not until we made this album that I felt we became a band.

“The growth and evolution of Red Sun Rising that you will hear in our sound and our songwriting builds on our ‘Thread’ mentality (songs that people can love and sing with us but don’t fit a mold).  We aren’t chasing trends and never will.”

With Protich at the helm, Red Sun Rising made its early recordings available through social media websites and steadily built a nationwide fan base.

“The majority of the songwriting is mine,” said Protich. “Once we establish the skeleton of the song, the band comes in and puts the meat on.

“For ‘Thread,’ we started with 35 songs and had to cut down to 11. That is such a brutal process because you’re proud of all the ideas. The key is to figure out what is going to resonate with people.

“We cut a few songs that didn’t fit with the calm desert vibe so we had to leave them off the album. We went for a lot more vintage sound. We wanted an album of songs with synchronicity.

“We wanted ‘Thread’ to represent the music – and more. We wanted it to represent our lifestyle. There is usually a hopeful undertone to our music.”

Video link for Red Sun Rising — https://youtu.be/0crY95eobHU.