Ain’t Too Proud’s Derrick Baskin Gives Great White Way Another Shot

0
Ephraim Sykes, Jeremy Pope, Jawan M. Jackson, James Harkness and Derrick Baskin (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Derrick Baskin, who plays legendary singer Otis Williams in the brand new Broadway production Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations, originally had reservations about starring in another musical after doing three different shows back-to-back-to-back.

“I just wasn’t feeling musicals,” said Baskin. “I had done three back-to-back musicals, which was a blessing in and of itself. Each show ran between two to three years, and I just wasn’t being challenged anymore in musical theater. I had one foot out the door when this show came along. My agent was like, ‘This show is going to give you the challenge that you’ve been looking for.’ This show is more of an acting role and I want to eventually make movies and do film and television.”

After being convinced by his agent that Ain’t Too Proud, which chronicles how The Temptations shot into superstardom, would be a good platform for him, Baskin was sold on the project. He was sold even more so after reading through the show’s script.

“I went and read through the script and said ‘This guy talks an awful lot,’” laughed Baskin. “I was nervous at first because I never had to memorize this much dialogue before, but eventually I did it.”

Derrick Baskin has starred in Memphis, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and Disney’s The Little Mermaid on Broadway. (Photo source: Broadway Pops)

After going through the reading materials, Baskin said he began to relate to Williams a little bit more specifically on an artistic level as well as a young black artist, a spiritual man and a person who loves his family.

“I started to get really excited about playing this guy who paved the way for me to do what I’m doing,” said Baskin. “Initially, I was like ‘Eh, let’s leave these musicals alone’ because I started to get some traction with film and television. I had done a movie called Marshall with Chadwick Boseman and Kate Hudson. I did three seasons of this television show called Difficult People on Hulu [also].”

Initially, Baskin wasn’t on the glamorous path to the entertainment business and was a pre-med student in college who only grew up singing in his local church.

“I’ve always loved music and I always loved singing,” explained Baskin. “I was applying to medical schools and graduate schools and didn’t want to have any regrets because once you go to medical school, that’s it. I’ve always wanted to sing jingles in commercials or make a record. I went to Hampton University in Virginia and once I graduated from there, I moved in with my grandfather in St. Louis, MO, trying to figure out my life as a 22-year-old guy. I was like ‘You can’t make an album here, so where do you go for that?’”

While navigating New York City and working at a TGI Fridays, Baskin fell into the Broadway world thanks to his new coworkers.

“There are a lot of waiters here who are singers or actors or musicians,” said Baskin. “I didn’t know that. I just wanted to pay my rent. I went along with my friends from work for an open call for Rent. I didn’t know what Rent was at all. My father was in the Air Force so I grew up all over the place. Half of my life was out of the country in either Germany or Japan. I had some knowledge of Broadway shows, but it wasn’t on my radar. I didn’t know what I was auditioning for, so they kept calling me back. I finally went to see the show and I was like ‘Oh wow, I want to do that. That’s what I want to do.’ A light went off and I was like ‘This is why you’re here. You’re here to do this,’ and from there I prepared myself for that.”

Afterward, Baskin, who is pretty much self-taught, took an acting class and read a lot of books about acting while sitting on the floor at a Barnes and Noble bookstore. After his friend helped set up a meeting with their agent, Baskin slowly rose through the ranks doing regional theater, summer stock and then finally his first show on Broadway.

“For me, I didn’t have a concrete plan on how to get here,” Baskin explained. “I just allowed whatever doors of opportunity to open and then here we are leading a show on Broadway.”

Playing Williams and paying tribute to such a well-respected group in the music community, such as the Temptations, is an honor, according to Baskin.

“Otis is such an artist,” said Baskin. “He’s very grateful to be where he is in life and he’s very grateful for the arts. I think that someone who has that kind of gratitude for what they do, because he could very well be full of himself and easily be very conceited, and none of that is what’s in him. I think people who have achieved greatness like Otis has achieved and they’re able to keep that gratitude, that story deserves to be told. I’m happy to tell that story.”

The 2-hour-and-30-minute show is full of high energy and excitement between its spot-on choreography and musical numbers. However, it wasn’t easy in the beginning for Baskin to learn some of those iconic moves that The Temptations were known for.

“I’m probably the worst dancer,” laughed Baskin. “I came in before everyone else did about two or three weeks with Edgar Godineaux, who is the associate choreographer for the show. The two of us were just in the room because it takes me awhile because my brain doesn’t work that way with choreography. It takes me a while to pick up steps. It took me about three weeks for a one-on-one intense workshop situation. It was eight hours a day. It was pretty rough. Once everyone else started, it took us three or four more weeks.”

 

 

 

 

Once Baskin mastered the art of dance, he also needed to learn how to unnerve himself when he stepped out on stage.

 

Christian Thompson, Saint Aubyn, Ephraim Sykes, Jeremy Pope, Derrick Baskin and Jawan M James (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Once Baskin mastered the art of dance, he also needed to learn how to unnerve himself when he stepped out on stage.

“I had to get over my nerves of dancing,” he said. “I was like ‘Oh my god. Now I have to dance in front of all these people.’ It’s much different than dancing in front of a mirror. I had to get over the nerves of dancing in front of people, so that took me a long time. I wanted to say that I got really comfortable with my dancing after the first month on stage dancing in a show.”

Using the legendary Motown catalog, top hits such as “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” “Get Ready” and “My Girl” are all performed. Baskin’s favorite song to perform is “I Can’t Get Next to You,” which is performed at the top of Act 2.

“It’s some high, high energy,” said Baskin. “We have two turntables in the middle of our stage and we don’t use them as a group until the top of Act 2. We only use it twice like that and that’s the first time. It symbolizes us doing concerts in different venues. It kind of shows the success that The Temptations were having at the time. It’s some of the funkiest music and that’s where I do some of my best dancing. I’m really proud of doing that particular song with that choreography for sure.”

If anyone knows the history of The Temptations, they would know that the members certainly had their differences when it came to drug and alcohol abuse, which is a feature that is shown throughout the play. However, according to Baskin, the cast gets along pretty well.

“Here’s the thing with show business that we forget, is that it’s a business,” said Baskin. “You don’t necessarily have to like the people that you work with. Our show, I lucked out that we genuinely love each other. There’s a genuine camaraderie and a friendship there. Then to have five black male leads, in recent history, there hasn’t been five black male leads telling a black story. This is very rare and we realize that as artists. These characters are fully realized characters, so they have a good arc and are fully developed characters, which is clearly attributed to the writing of the show. It really is just a wonderful story.”

Derrick Baskin received a Tony nomination for his role as Otis Williams, earning Ain’t Too Proud a total of 12 nominations. Catch the Tony Awards on June 9 on CBS.

Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations stars Derrick Baskin, James Harkness, Jawan M. Jackson, Jeremy Pope and Ephraim Sykes, and is playing at the Imperial Theater, located at 249 West 45th St. For tickets or more information, visit www.ainttooproudmusical.com.

Leave a Reply