Beyond the Stage Door with Derrick Williams
This week’s Beyond the Stage Door is with Derrick Williams. Derrick has been working on Broadway since his first show, ‘Swing!’ in 1999. In my opinion, he’s one of the most under appreciated performers on Broadway. With a lengthy resume that includes being in the original casts of ‘Wicked’ and ‘Aida’. Derrick is currently in ‘The Book of Mormon’ on Broadway as The General.
What’s one thing you’ve learned that you’d tell yourself at the beginning of your career?
Derrick: I would tell my younger self not to settle and stay hungry. Don’t be afraid to jump. I would also tell myself that Insecurities will get you nowhere and confidence is everything..hahaha
How would you describe your Broadway debut and managing an 8 show week in the beginning?
Derrick: I would describe it as one of the most challenging things I had ever done before at the time. The show was “SWING ” and I was a swing in the show. There were several different kinds of partner dancing and I was required to know them all… Lindy Hop, West Coast Swing, Latin.. you name it and we did it. And I was on more than some of the regular ensemble. But keeping up with the 8 show schedule was easy. I was young and hungry and loved every minute of it.
What are your must-haves to get through an 8 show week?
Derrick: Really depends on the show. But physical and mental health are keys to a successful 8 show week. Also mapping out when you can eat and what not. But for me, it all starts with the gym. When I’m at the gym 4 to 5 times a week I’m feeling pretty good.
How do you prepare for callbacks especially for big shows like ‘The Lion King’ and ‘ The Book of Mormon’?
Derrick: What I try to do is implement any notes that were given to me at the initial audition. If there aren’t any notes, I try to keep the initial plan. I think going in there trying to do the same thing can get you in your head. But if you go in with the same intentions you cant go wrong. They called you back for a reason.
What are your keys to balancing personal relationships outside of work?
Derrick: very good question. I am blessed to have a lovely family that I includes my lovely wife and fantastic daughter. They keep me balanced. It’s tough, because my show schedule (which I’ve been blessed to have most of my career) has only allowed me to put my daughter to bed once a week. So that’s always been a bit of a bummer. Dinner is also hard because I’ve never really been home for that either. But they understand. They understand that this is what daddy does to put food on the table. And this is what he loves. Support is key.
What was it like “building” wicked and what’s your favorite thing that never made it Broadway?
Derrick: Being apart of the creative process for Wicked was an amazing experience. It was my first time in the developmental process of a show. And for it to turn out to be such a huge success makes it even more amazing. I still have close friends from that experience today. I can’t really think of something I worked on that didnt make it. There are some pieces I’m currently working on that I feel are good shows. And would be a shame if they didnt come to fruition.
What’s your character study/development process like with roles like Mufasa
Derrick: Ya know…Mufasa was such an iconic role. With roles like that, I don’t believe you should try to reinvent the wheel so to speak. When I did Fiyero, I knew I had to bring the best parts of me to that role or it wouldn’t work. If I went on the stage trying to do what Norbert did, it would have been a quick run for me. It took me a minute to figure that out but I did. But when we opened the Wicked Tour in Toronto, I struggled a bit. Because I went from covering the role on Broadway to it being mine for the Tour. It was an adjustment but I figured it out. But the main thing I would say is to break the text down and then bring yourself to the material. That’s what’s gonna make the difference between you and someone else.
You’ve played almost every type from pretty boy to king and with the General you get to lay into a comedic character. What inspired your decisions to take these roles?
Derrick: hahaha.. inspired me to take them? I mean…that’s what we do it for…right? To have the opportunity to do what you love to do on the biggest stage at the highest level. I’ve just been very fortunate enough to be apart of hits. And they happen to be of a wide variety. I’ve been very fortunate and very lucky.
What’s one thing every role you’ve played has taught you?
Derrick: I wouldnt say each role taught me one thing. I would say each role taught me a bunch of things. Each role was a learning experience. Being able to share the stage with some of the greats was always a learning experience. From Stephanie Block to Kendra Kassebaum, from Davud Garrison to Carol Kane, Gavin Kreel to Ben Vareen, to Eden Espinosa to Kristen Chenoweth. Adam Pascal to Daniel Breaker… you share the stage with folks like that, your bound to pick up something good haha.