Motown was a major part of my life. In Champaign, Illinois we didn’t have radio stations that played “Soul” music but we had WLS out of Chicago that would play the Motown Sound. Berry Gordy allowed his artist to stretch their talents and grow into songwriters and producers. Everyone was interested in his relationship with his top star, Diana Ross. Motown the Musical takes us into the Motown scene.
I caught up with Trenyce who plays Diana Ross in the show. She on break from rehearsal and was excited to be coming to Chicago.
Trenyce we’re going to go way back. So many people think that when people are chosen for American Idol that this is their first time singing on a professional stage, but that wasn’t your case you were a great singer even before you got on the show.
Thank you. My parents were singers and it was a big staple in our household to allow us to come together it was a way of singing together at Sunday dinner it was a way of having fun. It was a big huge part of my life even before American Idol as you said. My parents met in a singing group. They were supposed to be signed to Sax records and the only reason they did not go ahead with the deal was because my mother allowed her mother to convince her that the record business was kind of an evil place, so it kind of scared her away from her dream. When she had me and she realized okay you know what my daughter has a chance and if she is going to take this chance I am going to be right there with her, so you’re right I was singing around school I participated in the Axel Awards and I won. Jennifer Holiday was my judge and she even told me, she was like, you’re going to be a big star, just mark my words. So yeah it started a long time ago.
You have done so much in Europe. What is the response in Europe to American artists?
The response in Europe is always fascinating. Just a fascination with the American artists’ work ethics more than anything it’s, “How do you guys sustain? How do you work so hard, how do you rehearse so long, how do you have a two-hour show and then still get up the next day and do phone interviews?” They are really fascinated with everything about the American dream. They read about it and they watch it on television, but when they work with you… when I did Thriller and I was over there for about five years doing the show and they were really, really enamored by the fact that I wanted to rehearse all the time. I didn’t want to take a tea break. Then when you add on vocals to that I mean there are some amazing vocalists over there too, but what they really, really are into when it comes to American artists is the fact that we’re sharp. We are polished a lot of the time, but what I like about European artists is that they’re not. You have to be a certain weight or a certain height or a certain color or your hair has to be straight or your sound has to be perfect and that kind of led me to stay there for a while. I cut my hair I went natural like everything about Europe for me made me accept all of the authentic parts of my art instead of dressing up my art when it’s already there.
Now let’s talk about Motown the Musical because you’re coming to Chicago and we can’t wait to see it because of course Detroit was right up the street. Everybody loved the Motown sound and the stories behind it. How did you get the role of Diana Ross?
The process has been amazing. I talk all the time about how Shelly Williams, our director made me feel so comfortable and she still does. She still treats the cast like her very own children. You can ask her anything she will tell you straight up exactly what she needs, what she wants from you and everybody is just so open. You have that sense that because Mr. Gordy was like that in the record business in creating Motown, to be a family unit that it trickles down to everyone that is involved whether it is the MD or whether it’s the choreographer, whether it’s Shelly or Charles Wright. You just get that sense that they want you to win so I’ve never felt from the audition process to now that I was being judged or criticized, but that every ounce of what they are pouring into us was for a purpose and it was to make us great and to tell a story.
Was there something that you found or you realized after being into the role of Ms. Ross that you thought you knew but didn’t?
I will tell the number one thing that I did not know about the entire process was that
Berry Gordy used his own money. I think I assumed that all record labels needed some sort of a loan or it was curated underneath a company or a parent label. I think in my mind I just glossed over the fact that this was a Black man who owned his own label and it was a family label. His sister Gwen gave him the money and he made the stars.. It’s a big deal for a Black man to have a label and to own it, own every single part of it; that’s huge. This is insane and more people need to know that.
What about the relationship between Berry, and Diana?
Well I didn’t know that they felt that shared love because special electricity that happens that spark when he speaks of her still. When I met him we sat down and we talked about me playing Diana Ross and we talked about the fact that he would go back into a memory as he was sitting there talking to you and he won’t stop smiling and he will say oh yeah and she looked at me and she said this. I mean he is still there he is still 100 percent I mean he could probably touch the furniture, remember the smells, remember how she looked. His memories of her are still very, very vivid and sharp and everything that you see on the stage really happened to him and really happened between them. So that is another reason why it is one of those roles of a lifetime for me because not only did my mother introduce to Diana Ross when I was growing up but she explained to me the importance of Diana Ross being a superstar and being the first Black superstar on television and who crossed over to other audiences other than our audience. It was like her being a mainstream artist as a Black woman who just lit up on screen and it made me want to go Google her more and made me want to watch her films and made me want to watch her skit shows I just dug so deep. What I didn’t know was that love, that spark is still there between them.
Have you met her yet and would you be a groupie when you do or would you be able to hold it together?
I would be able to hold it together I mean at this point I’ve met I think pretty much everybody that I admire except for her. I would just love to tell her thank you just from a brown-skin girl to another brown-skin girl to just say thank you to her. The reason why my mother introduced me to Diana Ross in the first place was because I was going to school and having issues with my color. She explained to me that you don’t understand you are beautiful. You remind me so much of a young Diana Ross. I was like what does that have to do with anything and she was like, look at her she is a chocolate woman and she is on television and people love her. She sings, you sing and you perform, and this to me kind of put a staple on the hopes of having a career being me being a brown woman. So if for nothing else I would love to just be able to just tell her thank you for allowing me to dream bigger as a young girl and she has done that for generations. I am not sure she knows it but she has put that out there for a lot of young woman that are like me, are not your typical pretty or your typical idea of a star of any kind.
Now you’re going to be in Chicago with the show for only a week and we’ve got to make sure everybody comes out and sees it, but how hard is it to go into a city and do a show for a short period of time.
Oh my goodness there is nothing I would rather do. One of the biggest things that is going to be great about doing this particular show is now is the best time for us to start talking about unifying our world and that you are all the same. Once it gets to the part where we sing Reach Out and Touch, and people are holding hands and swaying back and forth I hope that they can connect with the story, but also connect with something human within them and take that home. Whether they came in thinking less of me for being a Black woman or less of a White person or less of anybody or anything or music or Motown or Berry or Diana, whatever, I hope that they walk away with that intention to do something with the time that they have on this earth to change it. We go through Martin Luther King dying in the show, but a lot of the things that we’re talking about in the show are still happening and it resonates with us now whether you’re from that era and you can go back and say wow I remember exactly where I was when he died or whether you don’t have a connection to that but you have a connection to Trayvon Martin or Orlando Castile or Sandra Bland it’s like all of those things. We use all of that emotional distress in the show. I hope people come up afterwards and say, wow I am forever changed or I am moved or something.
You know what this storyline. You think you know the story of Berry and Diana but let me just tell you there is a lot more to love about it. It is symbol of love and peace and unity and music and hopefully you will take something away from it that will change you forever. I hope Chicago will support us.
Motown the Musical will be at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre from October 3 – 8, 2017. For more information visit www.broadwayinchicago.com
Until next time, keep your EYE to the sky!