DIVA TALK: A Chat With Motown The Musical Star Valisia LeKae

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15 Mar 2013

Brandon Victor Dixon and Valisia LeKae
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Question: And, you also played Deena Jones in Dreamgirls
LeKae: I did. That came about very weird because I remember auditioning for North Carolina Theatre, which is one of the theatres that I love, and going in for [the role of] Lorrell, and having that whole audition process be about Lorrell, so when my agent called me, he said, "Hey, you got the job for the North Carolina Theatre, but they want you to play Deena Jones." Not that I had a problem with that, but I didn't read for Deena Jones, I didn't sing for Deena Jones… He said, "No, they really want you for Deena Jones." That was another experience where it wasn't a difficult audition… And, what was so great was that we got to use the original Dreamgirls costumes, so we got to use the costumes that were in the Broadway show, and I could look at the back of my tag and see "Sheryl Lee Ralph"! And people over the years who were in those outfits, [including] Terry Burrell, who was in my first Broadway show… I was in one of her outfits. I could see those outfits, and we got to use the fur and everything from the original Broadway production, and for two weeks, we were living! We were living on the stage, and it was such a great production, and such a great town with a wonderful cast, so I got very lucky with that one.

Question: For Motown, how did you go about approaching playing Diana Ross? Did you want to imitate her sound? What was your thinking?
LeKae: No, I can definitely tell you that I'm not doing an imitation of anything. If you asked me to do an imitation, it would probably suck because I wouldn't even know how to go about approaching that. [Laughs.] I wanted to make her as human as possible because being in this business, [people] can come off larger than life and big icons and untouchable and so many things, and people forget that they're just like us. Stars are just like us—they're human, they cry, they get upset, they laugh, they do all sorts of things, they make mistakes. So I wanted to really approach her in that manner because, to me, that's who she is. After reading so much about her, I found so many things that were alike…growing up in the church just like she did and singing, and sort of wanting to be a dancer when I was younger, and the thing about love—wanting to share it and give it. That, to me, is such an important part of her journey, not wanting to let her fans down and wanting to serve her purpose in this world and also give the people everything that they wanted. She got to be such a songstress and a storyteller through her journey, and I really wanted to emote all of those things. I don't do an imitation of her. I'm an actress, and I study my craft to portray this woman in a way that people would understand her, and I would hope that she would be proud. She started off when she was 15, and she was an unknown, and then she became this woman, this person, this icon. I am an unknown and Motown is so larger than life—it's something that everybody experienced through their lifetime—I can sort of bring my own life into this role of…taking this journey with her and understanding it. So it wasn't very difficult for me to channel her because we're sort of going on kind of the same journey… When I go on that stage, and when I'm performing and entertaining for people, there is nothing else I'd rather be doing because the people—for two-and-a-half hours—are removed from everything that could possibly be wrong or right in their life, and for that moment, they are laughing and living and loving and crying, and I get to be a part of that, and I think that was something that was so important to her.

Question: Because I haven't seen it yet, is there much of a book to the musical or is it more a concert?
LeKae: Oh, yeah. There is definitely a story because Mr. Gordy has a lot to say. I mean, along with the music and the stuff that he does, he's got so many things in his life that I don't think people know about, and how he got there, and the struggles that allowed him to get there—the ups and downs. The love story between the two of them is really told throughout this play. We get to see him from a very young age experiencing the night that Joe Lewis won the fight, and how that affected him and his family, and we get to experience that and how that sort of set a spark in him—how his father taught him, "You can do whatever you want to do, just be yourself," and "You don't have to be anyone else, and do what you love." And so he takes us there—from the '30s to where Joe Lewis won that fight. And, he was working in an auto plant to being a boxer and…those things really didn't stick for him until he became a songwriter, and then he found what his true calling was, which was loving and entertaining and educating artists and being this songwriter. He goes from a very young age—I think he's about eight—until 1983 when he's in his 50s, so we get a long journey with Mr. Gordy and his story, but yes there's a book. There's a love story between he and Diana, there is his growth throughout the company, and then you see all of these other people—these established other people: The Temptations, The Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson… It really is a journey.


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