I had the amazing opportunity of seeing Motown: The Musical on Broadway. The play pays homage to music mogul Berry Gordy and the history of Motown. The musical was extremely entertaining and will have you singing along to your favorite oldies-but-goodies from beginning to end.
Most impressive was the remarkable performance by Valisia LeKae, who played Diana Ross. I thought of all the times I played make-believe, put on dresses and makeup, and sang songs by my favorite artists, especially Diana Ross, in the mirror. I have always been a fan of make-believe and fantasy, which is part of my driving passion as a makeup artist. But Valisia as Diana Ross in Motown is not a fantasy or an abstraction from life. It's a transformation that quite honestly is very magical for the audience. My 16-year-old daughter, who didn't know a great deal about Ms. Ross prior, has now downloaded all of her music because of how well Valisia portrayed Diana Ross.
I have always been curious as to how an actress actually transitions into a role. Portraying someone as iconic as Diana Ross is much deeper than just putting on some amazing gowns and singing. Heck, if it were that simple, I'd do it tonight. It's almost like having an outer-body experience as someone else. Was Valisia personally coached by Diana prior to opening night? How much did she study her subject? I was amazed to find out that she had not met Diana during rehearsals. But Valisia did read Diana's book, and she also found out that they both recite Psalm 23.
I had a chance to sit down and speak with Valisia about what it takes to do the magic that she does. Here is what she had to say:
What is your transformation process like from you to Ms. Ross (mentally and spiritually)?
I've always felt like in my spirit and soul, I have met her. Mentally, I wanted to get to know myself. I wanted to make sure that there were things we had in common, both spiritually and professionally. I've read her book, and there were many similarities in that we both love to perform and entertain. We are both aware of our surroundings, and we want to do everything we can possible to promote what God has blessed us with. I wanted to allow myself to be as truthful as I can, because she is such a phenomenon. I wanted people to see the real, human aspect of her because she really is one of us. It's also great playing such a profound role because the work has already been done, and the streets have already been paved, so that I can enjoy this moment. It is because of people like Diana Ross that I don't have to sneak into the building from the back door to enter. It's because of people like her that I can perform on Broadway, and that I won't be judged for it. So I like to think of her as helping me enjoy this space and be comfortable and just truly take it for what it is.
What inspired you to pursue a career in musical theater?
Becoming a performer just sort of happened for me. I grew up singing wherever they would have me, so it happened very naturally. It was the greatest gift God ever gave me. When I got to New York, I really wanted to be a singer. I became interested in acting by accident. My friend asked me to go do this audition because she didn't want to do it, and since that day it just turned into something entirely else, and I really love it.
With the demands of doing so many shows weekly, how do you take care of yourself on a spiritual and physical level?
The way I start the day is really important to me, and I just wanted to make sure I took time before the day starts to really understand and know myself. I went through a journey of diving into my soul and making sure my relationship with God was really intact. I started this thing called "PM in the AM", which is prayer and meditation in the morning. Before I say hello to anyone or make any phone calls, I just take a good 15-20 minutes to have time to myself, because it really sets the entire mood for my whole day. I've also found that throughout the years, connecting to outdoors is really important to me because it allows me to be in the midst of something that is greater than anything I expect of myself.
Valisia LeKae received a nomination for the 2013 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance as Diana Ross in Motown: The Musical. For more information about Valisia LeKae and Motown the musical please visit www.motownthemusical.com