Broadway star Chester Gregory’s soulful rendition of Motown tunes and an energetic audience-centered show provided a dynamic opening to freeFall Theatre Company’s 2023/24 season.
A Motown Celebration offers audiences a musical revue of some of the record company’s greatest hits by legends Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder. Gregory performed with pianist and musical director Damon Carter, drummer Etienne “EJ” Porter, and bass player Matthew McKinnon.
Gregory peppered his performance with stories about his encounters with Motown greats. One story in particular involved the record company’s founder, Berry Gordy, Jr., who hand-picked Gregory to play him in the Broadway hit, Motown: The Musical. Gregory played this role for two-and-a-half years, both on Broadway and on tour.
Motown’s new musical revue came together quickly after freeFall’s planned opening fell through. According to the theater’s Outreach/Marketing Director Matthew McGee, freeFall postponed At Home With Ethel Waters indefinitely due to a medical emergency. Gregory told the audience he had only a 72-hour notice before the show’s opening night.
A Motown Celebration
Gregory’s honest admission of his last-minute notice was the only hint to the audience that this wasn’t planned months ago.
He flawlessly performed Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay,” Jackie Wilson’s “To Be Loved,” Sam Cooke’s “Darling, You Send Me,” Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” and Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You.”
He had the audience finishing the choruses, clapping with the beat, and dancing in front of their seats, all by Gregory’s invitation. This is not a show for simple bystanders. The audience becomes part of the show. Gregory delighted in the audience’s participation. The audience rewarded him with a standing ovation.
Cast and Crew
Gregory got his big break at age of 27 as Jackie Wilson in The Jackie Wilson Story. He appeared on Broadway in Hairspray, Tarzan, Cry-Bab, Dreamgirls, and Sister Act. His TV and film appearances include My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Remember Me: The Mahalia Jackson Story, and Hairspray.
Carter is a professional pianist, songwriter, and educator. He previously was seen at freeFall Theatre in 2022 as Jimmy Powers and music director of Lady Days at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.
Porter is a professional music producer, musician, and owner of Drummerboy Entertainment in Sarasota. He has worked with artists Trick Daddy Dollar, P. Diddy, and Mary J. Blige, as well as many gospel artists.