Dorchester resident Quiana Holmes took the stage at the Boston Opera House this week with a big role in Broadway in Boston’s production of “Motown the Musical.” The 23-year-old actress and singer, a recent graduate of Berklee College of Music, portrays Mary Wilson, a founding member of the Supremes, in the show, which runs through this coming Sunday.
A native of Rome, New York, Holmes has made Boston her home in recent years, studying music education, drama, and business at Berklee while making her professional musical theater debut at Dorchester’s Strand Theatre, where she starred as Dorothy in a 2015 production of “The Wiz.”
This week, she has settled into a role that she says resonates deeply with her. “Being able to play Mary Wilson is very inspiring,” she told the Reporter in an interview. “She’s one of the few legendary figures in the show who is still alive in real life, so it’s very inspiring being able to tell her stories. I love every moment of it.”
Thanks to her parents and grandparents, Holmes grew up to the rhythms of Motown. Her familiarity with the songbook comes in handy as she performs with the wedding band Encore in and around the Boston area. “Motown has followed me since I was little,” she said.
With that experience as a foundation, Holmes delved into her role by researching the life and times of the now 74-year-old vocalist who, along with Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, rocketed to stardom in the ‘60s heyday of The Supremes and Motown Records. Holmes discovered she has more in common than she expected with the legendary vocalist. “She is very much like me. “She’s a hard worker, she loves music...I really admire her passion and her work as an advocate for musicians.”
Having also played Ross in a past production and acting as understudy for the role in this show, Holmes says she possesses an intimate knowledge of the characters and their relationship to each other.
“It helps knowing what each character’s thinking, knowing their motives, and it also helps you memorize the lines,” she said. “I know what they’re feeling at each point in the show.”
“Motown the Musical” tells the story of how producer and songwriter Berry Gordy founded his Motown record label in 1957 Detroit and introduced black music into mainstream pop culture, birthing stars like Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, and Smokey Robinson. The show features snippets of over-65 Motown hits as it traces the history and evolution of the label. The music in the show alone is a good enough selling point, said Holmes.
For people unfamiliar with the musical, Holmes stressed that the show tells a timeless story about how our country’s past and present are entwined. “It’s the story of how Berry Gordy wanted to make the soundtrack of America,” she said. “It’s part of our history, and it’s still the same story that was happening long ago. So this message is universal.”
Boston Opera House will host performances of “Motown the Musical” at the following showtimes: Thurs., June 14, at 7:30 p.m.; Fri., June 15 at 8 p.m.; Sat., June 16 at 2 p.m. and at 8 p.m.; Sun., June 17 at 1 p.m. and at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are available for purchase online at ticketmaster.com or at the Boston Opera House Box Office, at 539 Washington St.