Q & A! Motown’s Jesse Nager on Playing a Music Icon

Kicking off our new series of Q & A’s is the musical that kicked off the 2016-2017 Broadway season, and it’s a (somewhat) oldie, but a goodie!

Motown the Musical first landed on Broadway in 2013. The original production ran for more than 700 performances before it closed at the Lunt-Fontanne and embarked on a National Tour. Now, Motown is back on the Great White Way, playing at the Nederlander Theatre through July 31st.

Jesse Nager is the perfect person to talk about Motown: he was a member of the original cast, playing one of the Temptations, and then he went on the National Tour as Smokey Robinson. Now he returns to Broadway in the role of Robinson. We got a chance to talk with Nager about playing a music icon, and why the story is still relevant.

The Broadway Blogger: How did you become involved with the original production in 2013?

Jesse Nager: I auditioned for the original production after I saw footage from the press launch. The cast was insane. The material was insane. And I knew I had to try to be a part of it. I had one audition and one callback. And Mr. [Berry] Gordy was at both. AHHH!!! They needed a high tenor to be Eddie Kendricks in the Temptations. And I fit the bill.

BB: You went on tour with Motown, but you made the leap to the role of Smokey Robinson. What was that transition like? 

JN: It’s interesting in some way, physically especially; Smokey is easier than Eddie. Less dancing. Less changing. Less running around. But there is much more pressure and responsibility as Smokey. Doing scene work as such a well-known, and living, legend is difficult. You can’t make anything up. Everything has to be grounded in truth. But speaking with Smokey, his family and friends, and Mr. Gordy about Smokey helped shaped my show. They basically told me to ground myself in his joy and amazing heart. Everything will flow naturally from there.

Jesse Nager as Smokey Robinson in Motown.
Jesse with legendary Motown producer (and Motown book writer) Berry Gordy.

BB: Motown first opened on Broadway in 2013, then went onto a national tour. How has the tour changed/shaped the way you tell the story?

JN: Its interesting, this show takes place across the US. So playing in a lot of the cities the show takes place in definitely gave us a new perspective. It helped focus the story, focus the relevance. We are able to let loose in the joy and dig deep into the heavier content. So in a way its both lighter and brighter as well as deeper and more meaningful.

BB: Do you have a favorite song/dance from the show?

JN: Yes, and its not mine. “I Want You Back” from the Jackson5 is, and always will be, my favorite MOTOWN moment and song.

BB: Why should audiences see Motown?

JN: It’s SO important with what is happening in the world to reflect on what happened in the 50’s and 60’s. Mr. Gordy put it quite simply: “In Act 1 we ask ‘What’s Going on’? And in Act 2 we answer with a call to action, ‘Reach Out and Touch somebody’s hand/make this world a better place if you can.’” [Motown is] such a great show filled with great songs. Its so joyful and memory-inducing. Its a way to escape and just have fun.I think audiences leave with a joy and spirit that will help navigate the crazy events of today and give them a call to action on how to fight through all of it.

Motown is playing the Nederlander Theatre through July 31st. AND it’s still on the road as well! To get more information, and to buy tickets to the show, click here!


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