When Derrick Davis isn’t taking the stage in the long-running Disney hit The Lion King, he’s building and fostering talent on a different stage a few blocks away. As one of the creators of Lights Out, he is opening up new avenues for performers to express themselves and sing the music they love.
As a part of The Lion King, how has that made you up your game as a performer?
The Lion King has challenged me because the standard is so high for that show. For any show that has run for that long, there’s an expectation from the audience. Disney does an incredible job making sure the performers rise to or exceed that expectation on a nightly basis. It’s challenged me on every level: my stamina, my ability to take good care of myself as a performer and of course, my acting. Being the Mufasa cover was absolutely a dream come true. Once I stepped into those shoes, I realized how huge those shoes are. In my opinion, it’s one of, if not the most, important roles in the show because it sets the footprint for all of the tension. Then of course, stepping into the role of Scar, the arch of that character is mind-blowing. To keep that fresh and new every time I get up there to do it, is a challenge that rebirths itself every day.
How does it feel to know you have a sold-out house each night before you get there?
When I give myself permission to think about it, it’s a little staggering. It’s hard to wrap my mind around 1600+ people, every night for 17 years.
There are so many memorable moments in the show. Which one is your favorite?
It’s “Under the Stars,” where Mufasa is teaching young Simba the final lesson he teaches him, because it’s so intimate. I love the grand moments in the show, but that moment where it comes down to a father teaching his son a lesson and stripping himself of his regalness and warrior attitude to just be dad is such a beautiful moment. The audience is so silent but you can feel the connection from the stage.
What was the impetus for starting Lights Out?
There are so many places for performers to sing around New York but there’s nothing like Lights Out in the heart of New York City. Chondra and I were looking for places for ourselves to sing and couldn’t really find it. 54 Below is higher up in midtown, Toshi’s is lower but there wasn’t anything in the middle. We walked past Urbo at 42nd Street and 8th Avenue, went in, saw the stage and it was like a moth to a flame. Long story short, we developed what was in our heart for ourselves, but also did it for the rest of our community.
You’ve been there a year now. What drives you to keep going?
We do it because it’s needed and we love to see new talent have a professional place to express themselves. Also, we do it for the seasoned veterans to be in a space where they can mingle with and lend their experience to the up-and-coming performers. Because we do Broadway and theatre music eight times a week and in auditions and side gigs, we wanted a place where we and the community can do music that isn’t Broadway.
What’s coming up for you apart from Lights Out on Monday nights?
I just released my album, Life Music, and that’s available everywhere. There will be a mini-tour for that. I love the idea of learning so I’ve been studying and auditioning for things like television, film and voice-over work to keep my muscles always learning more.
Check out Derrick in The Lion King and at Urbo on Monday nights for Lights Out!
Photography by Steven Gabriel
Photo Assistance by Michael Orlando