VALDOSTA – Smokey Robinson calls Jesse Nager "Little Smokey."
Nager plays the legendary pop, soul, R&B artist in "Cruising Steady: The Music and Friendship of Aretha Franklin & Smokey Robinson." Patrice Covington plays Franklin.
"Cruising Steady" is the season-opening performance for the 2019-20 Annette Howell Turner Center for the Arts Presenter Series. The show is scheduled for Sept. 23 at Mathis City Auditorium.
In a telephone interview with The Valdosta Daily Times, Nager said he met Robinson and many other legendary performers while working on a show dedicated to Motown music.
"I spent a lot of time with Smokey and spoke with him on several occasions," Nager said. "Besides being one of the best singers of all time, he is also everyone's friend."
Nager said the performers had deep friendships.
"They didn't talk about one another like famous performers," he said. "They talked about these famous performers like people talk about their friends."
One of the surprising discoveries, he said, was the deep friendship between Robinson and Franklin. Franklin didn't record on the Motown label but was considered family by the Motown artists, Nager said.
"Cruising Steady" is based on the Robinson-Franklin friendship. The show features dialogue based on conversations with performers and famed songs from both artists, he said.
Nager and Covington are Broadway stars having performed in musicals such as "Motown the Musical," "Mamma Mia," "Mary Poppins" and "Good Vibrations."
Portraying Robinson and Franklin, Nager said they do not impersonate the performers.
"It is my interpretation of his life and music," he said.
Robinson has not seen "Cruising Steady" but has supported the production, Nager said.
Nager said he's still in awe of having met Robinson and working with other Motown artists.
"It was insane," Nager said. "These are people you grew up with and look up to and just to get to a modicum of his success and just talking to him."
The show is not on regular tour; instead, it makes one-shot stops at different locations, such as the upcoming Valdosta show, he said.
"Cruising Steady" kicks off the Presenter Series which also includes the musicals "Once," Jan. 28, and "Jersey Boys," March 12, said Nancy Warren and Tina Folsom, series co-chairs.
The Annette Howell Turner Center for the Arts Presenter Series presents "Cruising Steady: The Music and Friendship of Aretha Franklin & Smokey Robinson."
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 23.
Where: Mathis City Auditorium, 2300 N. Ashley St.
Pre-show dinner: An optional pre-show dinner is available at Mathis at an additional cost. The dinner starts 6 p.m.
Reservations, more information: Call (229) 247-2787; visit turnercenter.org; or visit the arts center, 527 N. Patterson St.