Tracy Byrd was a triple threat on ILM’s theatre scene for more than a decade before he moved to the Big Apple to progress his acting career. A dynamite dancer, with singing chops that could raise hairs on the toughest follicles, and a nuanced actor, Byrd performed in big song-and-dance shows for theatre companies like Opera House (“Chicago”) and City Stage (“Brooklyn the Musical”). He also left a big impact on smaller revues, like “Songs for a New World,” “Smokey Joe’s Café” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” And in the end, he had garnered enough stage time to offer up his own ideas on choreography and direction.
“Wilmington helped me grow so much,” Byrd praises. “From working with great actors, singers and dancers, I was able to learn so much and help me get better in my craft. I played my dream role [as Don Lockwood] in my last show in Wilmington in ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ and ‘Memphis,’ where I was able to help assistant direct. Both were beautiful shows.”
It’s no surprise to see him reach new levels of success in his career, as Byrd returns to a Wilmington stage, perhaps his largest yet in his hometown, at the Wilson Center tonight and tomorrow as part of the Broadway tour, “Motown the Musical” (which only has a handful of $42 tickets left for partially obstructed seats; must call the ticket center at 910-362-7999). The show follows the story of Motown founder Berry Gordy and the numerous performers and bands he founded and watched succeed to great heights in the late ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Songs include favorites like “Please, Mr. Postman,” “Reach Out (I’ll Be There),” “Sign, Sealed, Delivered,” “What’s Going On,” and “I Hear a Symphony,” among others.
Byrd plays in the ensemble but also will take on a slew of roles, such as a member of The Four Tops and The Commodores, as well as American songwriter and producer Lamont Dozier, among others. “I’ve actually been auditioning for Motown for about a year,” he admits. “They had a Broadway cast and a first tour cast, so I was basically always being seen and called in to audition for parts.”
Having lived in NY since 2015, Byrd would catch an extra dance class here and there, with money he brought in from one of three jobs. He stayed up to par on his craft by auditioning up to three times a week for various shows. The hustle helped keep his dream alive, even though the lifestyle and pace of Wilmington versus NY has been very different.
“It is absolutely, positively opposite from living in Wilmington,” Byrd quips. “I feel like there’s no quiet time in NY; the city really never sleeps. But there’s always something to do—and something you should be doing as far as bettering yourself to be and stay ready for what you set out for. . . . or just get your face out there and to catch a Broadway show, to see art. . . .I didn’t wanna live my life wanting to always move to NY and try and book a Broadway show or tour and never set out to do it. So I did it. It was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I knew in my heart I had to.”
Having done about 180 shows to date, Byrd’s latest foray into Motown allows him the opportunity to travel the world and perform in hundreds of venues. He will perform through June with nine more stops in cities nationwide, as well as in Canada. His love for the music has been the most gratifying experience of all. It takes him back to his own youth in NC.
“Listening to these songs as a kid, but then growing up and really understanding what the message was behind the lyrics, is very touching,” Byrd notes. “I love The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye and the Temptations. Their songs to me have the most effect on my life and how I grew up.”