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From the time Jarran Muse was a teenager, people told him his voice reminded them of Marvin Gaye's. "I connected to his voice, and I connected to his lyrics at an early age," says Muse, 32, who says Motown music was what his parents and grandparents were listening to as he grew up in New Jersey.
About seven years ago, Muse was performing in the national tour of "Dreamgirls" when a fellow actor, Chester Gregory, offered him some career advice: Go buy every Marvin Gaye record and learn the songs. "It's going to work for you as an artist," Gregory promised.
In a full-circle moment that has the ring of a musical theater plot point, Muse performs as Gaye in the touring show "Motown the Musical." And for several months, he has been sharing the stage with Gregory, who now plays the show's lead character, Gaye's brother-in-law and influential Motown Records founder Berry Gordy.
"Motown" plays Salt Lake City's Capitol Theatre Tuesday through July 3. It's the last gig for the cast before the show, which was nominated for four Tonys in 2013, returns to Broadway for an 18-week run.
Muse has a long history with "Motown," performing in 2011 in an early staged reading of the show, which then stretched for four hours. The musical is adapted from Gordy's 1994 autobiography, "To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown," and serves as the recording label's catalog, with medleys and excerpts from 66 Motown songs.
Muse went on to perform in the tour of "American Idiot," but stayed in touch with "Motown" producers and eventually was cast as a swing for the Broadway run.
"A lot of people in the industry think a swing is the worst job that you're not good enough to have a regular part," but instead it's the exact opposite. "In order to be a swing, you have to have a different brain. You have to literally be so on your game. At the drop of a hat, you have to play this person's part. And guess what? In the middle of the show, somebody might go down, and you have to play another part. It's a unique skill."
In 2014, he rejoined the "Motown" cast for the national tour, and one of the highlights of the show for him is singing Gaye's 1971 hit, "What's Going On," with lyrics penned by the Four Tops' Renaldo "Obie" Benson after a Berkeley antiwar protest in 1961.
"I really love singing 'Don't punish me with brutality, just talk to me,' because it's so simple and so true," the actor says. "I could sing that song every day for the rest of my life. With that song, I get to connect with the audience, and connect them to what's going on onstage, which is a riot. It's a special moment."
Another significant moment in the show is when he sings "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)." "The way we do that song is very, very special," he says.
Muse hopes that producers will go on to produce a musical about Marvin Gaye, and he adds: "Please hurry up so I can still play Marvin and I'm not too old."
He says he and his dog and traveling companion, a Terri-poo named, appropriately enough, Gordy, appreciate the chance to play Utah. The name of his dog underscores his respect for the musical legend, even if he hasn't been successful in his requests to have a tap number added to "Motown." ("Tap is my favorite thing," he says. "There's zero tap in this.")
"To be able to really just talk to a legend," Muse says of Berry Gordy, "and to be able to pick his brain ... he's really a cool cat, he really is."
Ain't no mountain high enough
"Motown the Musical" plays Salt Lake City.
When • Tuesday-Thursday, June 28-30, 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, July 1-2, 8 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinee Saturday; Sunday, July 3, 1 and 6:30 p.m.
Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $39-$100 (plus service and facility fees), at artsaltlake.org or 801-355-ARTS