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New version of play lets Marvin Gaye's sister tell more about her family

For Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Wednesday, February 13, 2013

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When Zeola Gaye rolled out the first version of her play "My Brother Marvin" -- about Motown legend Marvin Gaye -- she felt pleased but incomplete. She knew she had pulled some punches.

And she's corrected that with a new version of the drama, which plays this week at Detroit's Fisher Theatre.

"We kind of played around with it the first time," acknowledges Gaye. "I held some things back the first time that I didn't really want to expose about my family.

"This time I'm just going for it. I'm being bold and I'm letting more things out. I still told the truth in the first story; I'm just telling more this time."

The impetus for the new version of "My Brother Marvin" was Zeola Gaye's 2011 memoir, also titled "My Brother Marvin." During the process of writing it, she found some family journals and artifacts, particularly from her parents, which gave her additional perspective to help flesh out the story, both on the page and now on the stage.

"I had to be totally, brutally honest," Gaye explains. "Why write a book if I'm not going to be totally honest?" She particularly wanted to delve deeper into not only her Marvin Gaye's well-publicized complexities but also the equally complex relationship between the singer and his father, Marvin Gay Sr., [cq] who fatally shot his son on April 1, 1984, during an argument at the family home in Los Angeles. He was 44 and left behind a legacy of hits such as "I Heard it Through the Grapevine," "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)," "Sexual Healing" and many more.

"There's a lot of misconceptions about my father," says Gaye, the youngest of the family's four children who also worked as Marvin's personal assistant and an occasional backup singer and dancer. "People need to know the whole story from the beginning to the end. I was a little uncomfortable the first time dealing with that subject matter, but this time I feel free. Since I wrote my book I feel a lot of weight has been lifted off my shoulders and I don't need to hide anything.

"That's what Marvin was about, too. He was just so honest, it was unreal."

Writing the new version of "My Brother Marvin" fell again to Farmington Hills-based playwright Angela Barrow-Dunlap, who spent about a year re-tooling her original script with the fresh information in Zeola Gaye's book. "It was not an easy task," notes Barrow-Dunlap. "There was so much in there, it was difficult. I tried to basically deal with the highlights and the most important points to move the story along and still create a plot."

But she does feel that the new "My Brother Marvin" is more thorough than its predecessor.

"He was a really complex man," Barrow-Dunlap explains. "He was so spiritual in one sense, and I believe that because he was so gifted he had to struggle with dark forces inside himself. (Zeola) shared that he heard voices, especially later on in life."

The job of portraying that disintegration falls to another "My Brother Marvin" veteran, Detroit-born singer Keith Washington, one of two actors portraying Gaye (Anthony Grant plays him in younger days). Bolstered by friends and family members who told him that his own mannerisms and performing style reminded them of Gaye, Washington prepared for his role by researching books and videos and meeting Gaye's friends.

"It's not acting that I'm doing; I'm channeling Marvin," Washington explains. "IN so many ways while I've been doing this he's spoken to me, told me, 'Don't worry about what goes on around you. Don't worry about the fear. Turn it into a positive attitude and do what's necessary to make it look good and as real as it is."

But while "My Brother Marvin" now has more story, it's still missing one key ingredient -- his music. Zeola Gaye requested rights to use her brother's songs, now administered by Universal Music and Sony/ATV, for both the original and revised productions as well as for a documentary about Marvin Gaye. She was turned down, without explanation, every time and is none too happy about it -- especially after Chicago's Black Ensemble Theater was given permission to use a dozen songs for "The Marvin Gaye Story" in 2012.

Instead "My Brother Marvin" uses original music inspired by Gaye, and his sister says she's still confident that the authority of her words and her decidedly personal experience with the subject transcends the lack of tunes.

"Anybody can do a Motown story or a Marvin story," Gaye says. "But I'm doing a story about Marvin the man, behind the music, my brother Marvin. I'm telling the truth about my family and about Marvin -- everything good, bad, indifferent, because of course we weren't perfect.

"But people need to know why, and to know what led up to that day (Gaye was shot), everything. I have a story to tell, and just because I can't use his music isn't going to stop me."

"My Brother Marvin" plays Tuesday through Sunday, Feb. 12-17, at the Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit. Tickets are $39.50-$55.50. Call 313-872-1000 or visit www.detroittouringco.com.

Web Site: www.detroittouringco.com

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