When we witness the infectious student-led performances of Marvin Gaye’s music during Berklee’s original musical “Trouble Man,” it will be almost impossible not to relate the songs to the times during which Gaye made his most memorable music. The history is there in the smooth innocence of 1964’s “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” in the sophisticated intellect of 1968’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” and in the higher social consciousness of 1971’s “What’s Going On.” However, what the production really hopes to illuminate is not necessarily the turbulent society that brought us this great artist, but rather the inward struggle of a man who was always seeking the connection of family.
Written and produced in collaboration with students (as part of their continuing effort to increase the presence of musical theater at Berklee), “Trouble Man” is the next in line of a series of productions guided by Berklee Liberal Arts professor (and playwright) Amy Merrill; whose works have also included productions based around Billie Holiday, Michael Jackson, BB King and Joni Mitchell. Merrill sites Gaye’s search for connection in his own personal family, in his relationships with women, with Motown head and father-figure Berry Gordy, with fellow musicians at Motown and even in his relationship with his fellow man as the driving forces in the sensitive artist’s life.
“The challenge of this year is to try and figure out how to celebrate the music, to not run away from the violent end,” says Merrill, alluding to the tragic 1984 murder of Gaye at the hand of his father, Marvin Gaye Sr., which casts an unfairly dark shadow on a life that should be celebrated. Gaye’s music is used to help tell the story of a man who Merrill says “saw himself not an entertainer, but as a prophet.”
Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing
Twenty-one year old Berklee senior Tevin Brown will be doing his best to impress a very special guest who will be in attendance for the two performances of “Trouble Man” when he performs the role of Marvin Gaye. Valerie Simpson, who co-wrote many of Gaye’s biggest hits, will perform a few of her signature songs at the beginning of act two; including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” a song Brown performs regularly in his weekend wedding gigs.
“I just knew that we were going to do that song,” says Brown, who explains how this timeless classic became new to him again by learning how to master it in Gaye’s signature style. “That way he would slide to his falsetto and switch between registers. He was very ahead of his time.”
Wednesday and Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
Berklee Performance Center
136 Mass. Ave., Boston