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The soundtrack of America

‘Motown The Musical’ Celebrates Black Artists and the Legacy of Berry Gordy

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
The soundtrack of America
(l-r) Quiana Holmes as Mary Wilson, Trenyce as Diana Ross, and Kayla Jenerson as Cindy Birdsong in “Motown The Musical.” photo credit: Joan Marcus

“I like the fact that this is a black show put on by an incredibly gifted black cast and that we’re showing our story,” says Grammy-nominated singer and actress, Trenyce, about performing in the national touring production of “Motown The Musical.”

If you go
Tickets can be purchased through Ticketmaster by calling 800.982.2787, by visiting BroadwayInBoston.com, or in person at the Boston Opera House Box Office, located at 539 Washington Street in Boston, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The musical returns to Boston for a limited engagement June 12 through June 17 at the Opera House.

Trenyce portrays Diana Ross in the musical—a role that she seems destined to play. She grew up in Memphis, Tennessee in a musical household (her parents were singers), with Motown providing a soundtrack to her family’s life. She attended the University of Memphis on a full music scholarship, and later earned a spot in 2002 on season two of “American Idol.”

For several years, Trenyce had been researching Diana Ross, examining what her voice sounded like and studying her interviews, in hopes of creating a one-woman show about the icon. The actress first auditioned for the role of Ross while living and working in London, and was one of three finalists — but didn’t get the part.

Soon after, she left London for Los Angeles, and her new agent suggested she audition for the role. When she mentioned that she had already auditioned and hadn’t gotten the part, her agent encouraged her to try again, saying, “I think you’ll make a great Diana.” She auditioned, made it through the first round. On the second audition, Berry Gordy was there, and Trenyce landed the role.

Meeting Gordy — the founder of Motown records and the writer of the musical — was a surreal moment for Trenyce, she says, taking her back to her childhood. “I had grown up with Motown music in my household my entire life, the way that my family bonded on a Saturday or Sunday when we were cleaning. It was a way for us to have that family time,” recalls the actress and singer.

The essence of “Motown The Musical” is family. It chronicles the true story of Gordy, how he founded and grew the record label with the support of his four sisters, created an extended family of artists and musicians, and transformed the company into an empire that changed the fabric and the landscape of American music.

In addition to the hit songs that people know and love, the show contains 90 characters, with most of the actors playing at least five or six characters each. “We get to tell this amazing, iconic black people story,” says Trenyce.

Boston connection

Dorchester’s Quiana Holmes stars as Mary Wilson in the musical. For her, too, it seems that fate played a hand in bringing the Motown story into her orbit. In the spring of 2015, Holmes made her professional debut as Dorothy in Fiddlehead Theatre Company’s production of “The Wiz” at the Strand Theatre. The following spring, she was cast as Diana Ross in “Dancing in the Streets: Motown Revue Tour,” a West End production. And in 2017, just two months after graduating from the Berklee College of Music, Holmes was on the road with “Motown The Musical.”

Everything seemed to happen so quickly, yet the actress had been preparing for this moment for a long time. Growing up in the small town of Rome, New York, Holmes, like Trenyce, been surrounded by music. Her mother, Beverly Holmes, was an evangelist and a biblical playwright who often incorporated her daughter in her productions. In high school, the budding actress was involved in several musical activities, from the symphony orchestra as first violin to the marching band as a pit member.

In her professional debut in “The Wiz,” Holmes was able to work with a variety of actors. “It was fantastic learning from them and being able to see how they managed their time, how they studied their lines, and how they got into character,” she says. “It was a steppingstone for me to see that firsthand because I was one of the younger people who were cast. That was an advantage for me.”

Holmes, who is still based in Boston, is thrilled to be part of this particular musical journey. She wants audiences to see, she says, “that Motown is framing the message of unity and love, and that Berry Gordy has created the soundtrack of America.”