As her new play, My Brother, MARVIN, hits the stage, Zeola ‘Sweetsie’ Gaye, Marvin Gaye’s younger sister at 67, gives EURweb publisher Lee Bailey an earful, in an exclusive interview.
“I’ve been waiting for this for the last 5 years. I just never gave up hope. I truly believe that God was going to let this happen because…a lot of people counted us out…they said ‘you can’t get the music and nobody’s going to want to see this without music.’ My dream was ‘yes they will because people want to know the story.’”
…And right she may be, if her claims of sold out performances at the premier and subsequent nights of the stage production of “My Brother, MARVIN,” count. With 22-cities to go, and rumors of international interest, this enhanced version of the stage play on the singer’s tumultuous life is said to delve deeper into the man “behind the music.” The story focuses on Gaye’s relationship with his family members–all of them–from the perspective of his sister, and road dawg, “Zee.”
Based on her book of the same name, a memoir with a foreword by Carlos Santana, the play’s script was written by Angela Barrow-Dunlap and has a star-studded cast headed by Emmy award-winning actress, Lynn Whitfield, NAACP award-winner Clifton Powell and R&B singer, Keith Washington. The production managed to skip past the usual smaller venues – where shows generally start in attempts to perform, tweak and revise; and instead, went straight to Detroit’s Fisher Theatre and Philadelphia’s Merriam Theater; two high profile locales.
On this day Zeola, two shows deep into the multi-city run, sounds both upbeat and relieved at this fete accompli.
“My cast is so phenomenal,” she tells Bailey in their telephone interview. “They play each role just like my family member or the character…Keith [Washington] is…Marvin. I know Marvin’s spirit is in him. Lynn Whitfield, she told me she felt my mother’s spirit jump into her. She plays my mother, and she does such a wonderful job. And Clifton Powell, of course, is directing again.”
In addition to being the play’s director, Powell also plays Marvin Gay, Sr.
But you can’t deny this production comes to fruition on the shoulders of a lot of deep family drama and dissention. The infighting has been public at every turn. Gaye’s second wife, Janis Hunter Gaye, to whom he was married for 4-years and has two children, daughter Nona and son Frankie, has been adamant about her disapproval in interviews and beyond; calling both the book and the play “exploitative,” while Marvin’s daughter, singer Nona Gaye, once told The Washington Times, “They’re dragging his name through the mud.”
Listen below as Zeola describes the threatening messages she continues to receive from Jan and Marvin III, to Lee Bailey.
Call us crazy but, we can’t help but wonder, what’s the problem? Rumor has it, Jan Gaye has been working on a film about her late husband for quite some time. From where we sit, along with the rest of the spectators, both women are sharing their perspective on the life of a family member.
Yet Zeola (and apparently her investors) stands firm behind the play and its contents saying,
“…people were intrigued and they just read and read [the book]. So I was like, ‘we can do this’ because my family was…full of drama.”
Naturally, readers may assume that a play without the music of Marvin Gaye—who nailed iconic songs like “What’s Going On,” Sexual Healing,” and “Let’s Get It On,” just to name a very few, is impossible to comprehend; but according to Zee, who unsuccessfully attempted to get the music from EMI (they would not license it to her nor give her a reason as to why), this slight is not the case at all.
“…right now, where it is, I don’t have Marvin’s music … [but] I got beautiful music…spirituals in it that Marvin would have sang or did sing when we were growing up….spirituals that my mother and father sang together [sic]; and they’re put in the right spots per scene, you know? There’s a Tammi [Terrell] and Marvin song that Tony [Grant] wrote and when they sing it, you don’t even think about another [song].”
It does seem puzzling that no music was granted nor reason provided by EMI. After all, music is licensed all the time for commercials, movies, television shows, etc. For them to refuse to provide music to a production by Gaye’s family member, who, in all fairness, actually performed on the road with the singer, seems suspect. But if you’re thinking maybe Jan Gaye has something to do with it, according to her, think again.
“Zeola thinks it’s me personally doing it, or Nona, Frankie and Marvin ganging up on her,” Jan Gaye tells a reporter at The Detroit News. “But Sony is aware of the…play and said no. They are trying to protect his legacy.”
In speaking with Bailey, you can hear the frustration of Marvin’s younger sister, who says it’s not like they are asking for a handout.
“They would only gain,” says Zeola Gaye. “People…when I was signing their books and programs were like, ‘I’m getting ready to go out here and buy me 2 Marvin Gaye CDs right now.’ They will only make money. This will…enhance record sales…I thought these companies were about business and making money. So charge us for a record. They won’t give me one record, Lee, and when we try to do other songs in the era they deny that too, so we had to change a lot of things around.”
In part II of this saga there is more…we learn how and why the production’s star-studded cast was chosen; how audiences really feel about there being no Marvin Gaye music in the play and, the journals Zeola says she found bearing intimidate details about her deceased parents. Expect no less drama though, as Zeola brings a no-holds barred assessment of what Jan Gaye must have up her sleeve for a film, and what she couldn’t possibly know.
Zee also shares the threatening messages sent to her by Jan and Marvin III; and talks about her joy of one particular scene in the play between her and the second Mrs. Gaye.
Uh boy. Keep it locked.
Remaining My Brother Marvin tour dates:
MAR 5th-MAR 10th WASHINGTON, DC WARNER THEATRE
MAR 21st-MAR 24th CLEVELAND, OH STATE THEATRE
MAR 28th-MAR 31st ST. LOUIS, MO PEABODY OPERA HOUSE
APR 4th COLUMBIA, SC TOWNSHIP AUDITORIUM
APR 5th-APR 7th ATLANTA, GA COBB ENERGY CENTRE
APR 11th-APR 14th NEW YORK, NY BEACON THEATRE
APR 18th ROCKFORD, IL CORONADO PAC
APR 19th-APR 20th CHICAGO, IL ARIE CROWN THEATER
APR 21st LOUISVILLE, KY LOUISVILLE PALACE THEATER
APR 26th-APR 28th NEWARK, NJ SYMPHONY HALL
MAY 2nd-MAY 5th HOUSTON, TX HOBBY CENTER
**MORE CITIES, INCLUDING WEST COAST DATES TO BE ADDED IN COMING WEEKS
***Dates Are Subject To Change
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