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15 Feb 2013

Understanding an Icon

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February 15, 2013 Category: Local Posted by:

With the play “My Brother Marvin”, theatergoers will be given more insight into the life of singer Marvin Gaye, and how his relationship with his family led to his death.


ABOVE PHOTO: The All Star Cast of My Brother Marvin–center, Lynn Whitfield, bottom row from l to r – Clifton Powell, Tony Grant, Keith Washington, Lia Grant.


By Denise Clay


Everyone knows the story of the death of Motown Icon Marvin Gaye, who was murdered at the hands of his father also named Marvin.


Or at least they think they do.


A new production of the play My Brother Marvin, based on the book written by Gaye’s sister Zeola and featuring new information gained from a series of letters written between Gaye’s father and mother Alberta, hopes to fill in the blanks.


Adapted for the stage by playwright Angela Dunlap, the play offers a chance for theatergoers to get more of the complicated story of a complicated family, she said. 


“There were so many layers, so many dynamics,” Dunlap said. “The biggest challenge was knowing what to share of this story. The backstories of his parents alone could be their own play. I speak to audience members as they’re leaving and they’re all amazed at what they’ve learned about Marvin’s life.”


The play, which will call the Merriam Theater home from Feb. 19 to Feb. 24, looks at the Gaye family and the tragic events that led to the death of an icon. Included in the cast is Emmy-Award winning actress Lynn Whitfield, who plays Marvin’s mother Alberta Gaye, singer Keith Washington, who portrays Marvin and Clifton Powell, who plays the elder Gaye.


Washington, best known for R&B hits like “Kissing You”, takes on the pivotal role of the Motown icon. Zeola Gaye saw him in another production and thought he’d be the ideal person to portray her brother. 


“The biggest challenge is being accepted by the public,” Washington said. “I really care about this. I understand him because I’ve been through similar situations. What I want our audience to get is the story behind the music.”


In addition to portraying Marvin Gaye Sr., Powell is also the director for the production. He said that was his biggest challenge, especially since he sees his job as helping audiences understand that you don’t have to go to the Great White Way to get good theater.


“You have to manage the personalities of the actors as well as manage your time,” he said. “I expect a lot from my cast and from myself. People like me and [Tyler] Perry and others are trying to raise the level of theater, so I’m hard on my performers.”


Tickets for My Brother Marvin at the Merriam Theater are on sale now and range from $33.50 to $55.50. You can pick them up at the Kimmel Center Box Office from 10 AM to 6 PM, online at or or via charge by phone at 215-893-1999 (215-875-7633 for callers using TTY.) 


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