RODNEY EARL JACKSON JR. STARS IN THE NATIONAL TOURING PRODUCTION OF "MOTOWN THE MUSICAL"
By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs
Actor/singer Rodney Earl Jackson Jr. cites Sam Cooke as one of his biggest musical influences.
However, it’s Jackson’s show-stopping performances as David Ruffin of The Temptations, (pictured center), Jermaine Jackson (The Jackson Five) and Marvin Gaye, in the National Touring Production of “Motown The Musical,” that audiences can’t seem to get enough of.
“Motown The Musical,” which ran on Broadway from 2013-2015, garnered four Tony nominations and will makes its Sacramento debut at the Community Center Theatre May 18-29.
Based on Motown founder Berry Gordy’s 1994 autobiography “To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown,” “Motown the Musical” tells the remarkable story of how the Detroit singer/songwriter and savvy entrepreneur launched one of the most successful record labels in the world which became known as “Hitsville U.S.A.”
Motown produced some of the finest musicians in pop, soul, and R&B music like Diana Ross and the Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, The Jackson Five, The Four Tops and Mary Wells among many others.
N2Entertainment.net recently spoke with Rodney Earl Jackson by phone from his home in San Francisco prior to the “Motown The Musical” show at the Sacramento Community Center Theatre.
The 25-year-old actor and musician discussed how he fell in love with theatre, the moment he knew being a stage actor was his true
calling, what it was like auditioning for “Motown the Musical” in front of Berry Gordy, the impact Motown’s music has had on him, how he prepares for the high-energy shows each night and the overwhelming positive responses he receives from people that see “Motown The Musical.”
Here’s what else Jackson had to say.
Q. You don’t have to travel too far for your upcoming performance at the Sacramento’s Community Center Theatre. Have you visited Sacramento before?
A. Yes, I actually have family in Sacramento and lots of friends. I visit Sacramento regularly and like it a lot. My family and friends there like coming this way to Napa. We have a good time. I’m really looking forward to performing there.
Q. So many people love “Motown The Musical” because it really speaks to them and the music is a huge part
of their lives. What are some of the reactions you’ve received from those who have seen the production?
A. “Motown the Musical” is truly a very moving theatrical experience regardless if you’re young or old. As clichéd as it sounds, the music of Motown really is the soundtrack of many people’s lives. It’s left an indelible mark on the world. The impact of the music is still felt today. People equate Motown with change, happiness, love and hope. It never gets old when people come up to me and tell me what songs like Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” means to them or where they were when they first heard The Jackson Five’s “I Want you Back.” It’s really quite gratifying to hear. It’s one of the reasons this show means so much to me personally.
Q. When did you realize that a theatrical career was in the cards for you?
A. I knew at an early age, that performing on stage was what I always wanted to do. I grew up in San Francisco’s Fillmore and the Bayview district. When I was in elementary school, I met this man named Danny Duncan who ran a youth organization called the San Francisco Arts Education Project. And the purpose of it was to get kids from the inner cities that were interested in the arts and wanted to be singers, dancers and actors. They actually offered scholarships for them too. Well, I was one of the kids that were chosen. I remember Danny showing me the movie “The Wiz,” and that’s when I really knew that I wanted to be an actor. But, when I got a free ticket in elementary school to see “The Lion King,” at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco, that’s when I immediately felt a true connection to acting on stage. That was the turning point for me.
Q. Can you talk about how you were tapped for “Motown the Musical?”
A. I graduated in 2013 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa. shortly after that I got really lucky and got a four-month stint with “Book of Mormon” on Broadway. When that ended I moved back to San Francisco. After being in New York, I had zero dollars in my bank account, but I heard about the auditions for the National Touring Production of “Motown The Musical.” So I auditioned. It just so happened that Berry Gordy was actually at my audition and obviously liked my performance. He gave me the biggest break of my career.
Q. In “Motown The Musical” you play David Ruffin from the Temptations and Jermaine Jackson of the Jackson Five. What’s it like to bring these artists to life on stage?
A. It’s really incredible to be able to dive in the world of these enormously talented musicians and bring their essence/vibe to light. And it’s so important to make sure that the music we play in the show isn’t altered in any way. We want people to hear the songs just like David Ruffin, Marvin Gaye, Jermaine Jackson and everyone else sung them. That is so vital to this musical and I think one of the big reasons why it resonates with so many people.
Q. Are you a fan of David Ruffin, Marvin Gaye and Jermaine Jackson?
A. I’m a huge David Ruffin fan and really became fascinated with his story after seeing “The Temptations” movie (1998). He was a remarkably talented musician. I play David Ruffin during the height of his career. It’s so unfortunate that he wasn’t able to shake his demons. I totally admire Jermaine. Until I started doing research on him for the show, I wasn’t aware of all the music he released as a solo artist, but he has an impressive body of work as well. And Marvin Gaye’s music is so profound. I mean you listen to his song “What’s Going On” and it’s even more relevant in 2016 than when it was released in 1971. In the show, I play Gaye during his younger years from about 19-years-old until his early 30s. I play him the first week in Sacramento.
Q. Do you actually play the bass like Jermaine Jackson?
A. I most certainly do. (Lots of laughter).
Q. You also formed the Bay Area Theatre Company (BATCo). Can you talk more about it?
A. I really formed the theatre company as a way to reach out and give back to kids who may not have ever experienced seeing a theatrical production before. I wanted to open their minds to the entire creative, expressive process and hopefully they will experience the same joy and passion that I have about theatre too. Those interested in learning more about my non-profit organization can log on to the Web site at, sfbatco.com.
Q. How do you maintain such stamina doing so many shows each night and traveling?
A. It can be a grind, that’s for sure. It really all comes down to getting proper rest, eating right and I guess it helps that I’m fairly young. But here’s how I look at it. I figure we’re like the modern-day Motortown Revue. Back in the day, the Motown artists traveled by cramped buses and had to overcome a lot of adversity just to play in various cities. That’s inspiration enough for me. We have it a bit easier today. So you’ll never hear me complain about the travel or the tour stops. I truly love what I do and being part of “Motown The Musical” is a spectacular gig.
Editor’s Note: Don’t Miss “Motown The Musical” May 18-29 at the Sacramento Community Center Theatre located at 1301 L St., Sacramento.
Tickets range from $24-$97. For more information call Information: 916-557-1999 or 916-808-5181.
You can also log on to www.californiamusicaltheatre.com.