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‘Music of the March’ Performance Celebrates Motown and the Life of Martin Luther King Jr.

Updated: Jan 12

In the upcoming "Music of the March" concert, William Kevin Broxton,left, will portray Martin Luther King Jr., and David Greene will portray Berry Gordy. Photo courtesy of Arts and Learning Conservatory
 

Debora Wondercheck’s mother grew up in Chicago in a predominantly white suburb during the Jim Crow era. Iola King had a strong dream as a child to play string instruments, but was denied the opportunity.


She vowed her kids would never have the same experience. She gave birth to seven children, and Debora was her youngest. The young musician became a cellist, and founded the Arts and Learning Conservatory in Costa Mesa, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this summer.


Wondercheck leads the all-female African American production team in ALC’s latest signature performance, “Music of the March,” this Saturday at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. The two-hour dramatic musical celebrates the life of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Motown Sound.


“(This performance) is a call of action toward societal change,” Wondercheck said. “It’s to help people refocus on the MLK message, and the critical role that music played in the pursuit of justice.”


Growing up, her mother revered King and the budding philanthropist learned everything she could about the legendary reverend and activist. “Music of the March” will cover the life of the civil rights icon from childhood to his assassination and up until the creation of the MLK holiday, which falls two days after the performance.


Featuring music from Diana Ross and the Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Temptations, among others, the musical revue will also reveal lesser-known details of Rev. King’s life, said Wondercheck. The storyline will illuminate the nuances of his relationship with his wife Coretta Scott King, but mainly focuses on the tensions and dynamic between Rev. King and Motown Records founder Berry Gordy during the tumultuous 1960s and how music shaped that era.

Photos from rehearsal for the upcoming "Music of the March" concert to be held at the Irvine Barclay Theatre on Jan. 13, 2024. Photo courtesy of Arts and Learning Conservatory

 

Motown Records released music that transcended racial lines – white singers often covered songs recorded by Black singers and vice versa. Wondercheck said Gordy was reluctant to be associated with the civil rights movement initially, but over time, he provided financial and moral support to King and produced the Motown record album, “The Great March to Freedom: Rev. Martin Luther King Speaks” in Detroit.


Wondercheck said the performance was designed for today’s time, amid current racial tensions.


“It’s a call of action to do something different by remembering what African Americans stood for,” she said. “Forgiveness. Love. Justice. Equality.”


ALC produces another Black cultural concert for Juneteenth called “Gospel Voices of OC,” which will be held on June 8 at the Musco Center for the Arts at Chapman University this summer.


She hopes “Music of the March” will continue as a signature production for the nonprofit. The script was commissioned last fall and was only approved in November and the crew has been rehearsing nonstop last month to be ready for Saturday’s performance.


African Americans make up 2.3% of O.C. residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, yet are victims of roughly half the hate crimes in the county, according to a 2022 report from the county’s Human Relations Commission. The production crew of 28 is uniquely all Black and all female, a rarity in Orange County, she said.


ALC has served nearly 4,000 students of all ethnicities in Orange County from K-12, offering free and low-cost classes in theater and music, including band, strings, guitar and show choir. The organization also has 45 teaching artists that perform outreach directly in schools.


ALC’s adult groups offer gospel choir, theater and orchestra, with several members performing Saturday.

 

“We bring people together of different backgrounds and give them a platform and a message to unify and build our community,” said Wondercheck, adding that the production is geared toward all. “Anyone who wants to know more history, people who are empathic and want to see change in our community, people who want to know the truth.”


‘Music of the March’

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 13 

Where: Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine

Cost: Tickets range from $35-$105 

Contact: artsandlearning.org or barclay.org

For tickets, visit: https://ci.ovationtix.com/35720/production/1183756?performanceId=11383513.


FREE BONUS PERFORMANCE: The Orange County Musicians Union is performing a free concert from 5-6 p.m. in the Barclay Theatre lobby called “Rhythms of Freedom” right before the MLK performance, featuring three drummers from “The Lion King.” More info is available at: artsandlearning.org/rhythmsoffreedom.



 

Debora Wondercheck, quoted in this story, is on the advisory board for Culture OC.

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