Making Diana: Motown The Musical Comes to Jacksonville

Even before she auditioned to inhabit the role of Diana Ross, Trenyce already felt a connection to the legendary artist. She’d studied her song catalog and pored over a biography in preparation for her own tribute to the Motown queen, when opportunity called to join the cast for the final run of Motown the Musical.

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“It just so happens that two years ago, I wanted to do a Diana Ross tribute on my own. I started researching then. I was kind of familiar with her backstory. When I auditioned in Los Angeles, I decided to do a bit deeper,” says the Grammy-nominated artist. “The interest was not so much to get to her musicality but how she sits, how she speaks and sings. I want to make sure I’m not doing a disservice to who she is as a person. She’s still here, and she’s still performing, so I wanted to honor that.”

Motown the Musical stops in Jacksonville for a limited, two-night engagement March 10-11 at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts ( The production tells the story of Motown founder Berry Gordy who bridged racial gaps and pushed the soul of the Detroit sound into mainstream consciousness. Gordy made household names of unknown artists like Diana Ross, Martha Reeves, Marvin Gaye, and Smokey Robinson.

“Not having a blueprint for a simple idea, but to be able to go out and conquer the world and change the way music was listened to, and the way music was written, was all because of Motown,” says Trenyce.

Motown the Musical

Ross is an intricate part of that story, and Trenyce delved deep, studying her nuances and mannerisms to ensure she won the role. Inhabiting the life of a living legend put pressure on her to represent the totality of her personal and professional lives. “With acting, it’s all about reacting and being honest in the moment. You already have a script of what’s being said. You have to answer the why and really connect to the story. We all have experience with heartaches, making difficult decisions we’re not sure of, had our artistry challenged, had people telling us we’ll never make it, had to go on faith, and we persevere anyway,” she says.

It’s a unique cross-over for an actor when their stories intersect with the character they play both in real life and on stage. While prepping to inhabit the life of Diana Ross, Trenyce discovered some parallels that helped her to better understand her history and the reason behind her struggle to make a name for herself.

“You don’t hear a lot about where she came from and her relationship with her father. He was there in the home, but he wasn’t really present. Diana had such a tumultuous relationship with her father, and she felt he wasn’t interested in her as a person,” she says. “She would act out to get his attention. Motown saved her and gave her an outlet to focus her energy on. I could relate to that. Music saved me. You may not be able to speak for yourself, but you can write it down in lyrics or with a paintbrush or with an instrument.”

Music has always provided an outlet for the singer and actor with enough sass to drop her surname when she competed in Season 2 of American Idol. She has appeared in such shows as Ain’t Misbehavin’, Vagina MonologuesLove in the Nick of Tyme w/ Morris Chestnut, Thriller Live West End, Taboo China, and Marvel’s Kick Ass 2.”

The music of Motown was as valuable and significant as anything that occurred within the Civil Rights Movement, translated through the politics of art. Trenyce says she was overwhelmed by both the influence of Motown in a racially divided 1960s and the grit and determination of Ross as a strong, black woman in that era, standing side by side with Gordy to become a part of history.

There is a unifying moment in the show when the actors break the fourth wall and invite audience members to join them on stage to sing ‘Reach Out and Touch.’ It’s a poignant reminder to remember to look to the left and right at the person beside you and come together in a shared joy of the music.

It’s a joy that demonstrates the continued relevance and strength of the Motown era. For Trenyce, it proves that no matter what separates us, music has the power to bring people together. “I think that now we are in a position to do more and speak up for other people. We all want the same things,” she says. “We all want to love and be loved, and what this show tells us is that we are stronger together than apart.”

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About Liza Mitchell