Club Review: Derrick Baskin

July 12, 2021 | By | Add a Comment

Derrick Baskin

Tony-nominated Derrick Baskin has already made a name for himself in the worlds of theatre and music with appearances on Broadway in Memphis, The 25th Annual Spelling Bee, The Little Mermaid and, currently, Aint Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations. His film and TV credits include Difficult People, Annie, Marshall,  and Law & Order: SVU. He has now made his long-awaited cabaret debut at Feinstein’s/54 Below and what a debut it is!  His desire is to share with the audience lessons he has learned in times of contemplation during the enforced solitude of the pandemic.  There are glimpses of hope, sorrow, solitude, humor, faith, joy, and connection.  The central focus is love— of family, love of music, love of friends, love of partners, and, most importantly, love of self, because without that none of the others are possible.  In his time spent alone, he made momentous discoveries but he doesn’t shout them from proverbial rooftops.  Rather, he communicates them gently, insinuating himself into our hearts along the way.  The humility, warmth, intelligence, passion, and talent on display are as winning as they are rare.

Motown, and specifically Stevie Wonder, are unsurprisingly centerstage for most of the show, and his connection to this material is undeniable.  The show starts with a brief greeting courtesy of Erykah Badu’s “Hi” that grows into a terrific cover of Todd Rundgren’s “Hello, It’s Me.” The insinuating joy of his delivery makes this the perfect opener for a special evening. Baskin is, if anything, a crowd-pleaser, so he jumps right into the inevitable “Ain’t Too Proud Medley” from his hit Broadway show. The sparkling accompaniment of Clayton Craddock on drums and music director Shelton Becton on piano (and well done background vocals) is all the singer needs to transport his more than willing passengers back to the toe-tapping, finger-snapping 1960s. Even here he has such a passionate connection to the songs that they retain a personal, contemporary sheen while he bathes us in rhythmic nostalgia. If I wanted to quibble, and I usually do, I might suggest that he not turn the songs into a sing-along.  It is too early in the evening to introduce this kind of irritating intrusion when the audience is getting to know his voice and understand his heart.

“For Once in My Life” (Ron Miller, Orlando Murden) grows out of his lovably enthusiastic, thoughtful patter and storytelling, and reclaims the “oldie” for a new generation or two. Sharing that he recorded the song for a project for last year’s “COVID Christmas,” he begins the (for me) cringe-inducing chords of “What A Wonderful World” (Bob Thiele, George David Weiss). I dislike this song with a fervor that perhaps says more about me than it does about the song, but damned if Baskin doesn’t win me over with his open, youthful, yearning  vocal.  The singer’s mid-show foray into the great Stevie Wonder includes “Superwoman,” followed by “Send One Your Love” in which he mixes pronouns throughout, creating a  “rainbow coalition” interpretation of the classic; it is magical and a perfect gift for Pride Month. In these, as well as in “If It’s Magic” and “Village Ghetto Land” (with Steve Byrd), he channels the fire and silk of the great R&B singers of the past while retaining his own uniquely personal, contemporary voice. His supple inviting sound can lift us to the heavens, but retains a gentle ferocity that is all his own.  Perhaps inevitably this section opens the door to another of his big influences—gospel.  A “Spirituals Medley” from his days in church is a rousing, heart-pounding showcase that manages to touch deeply, even one for whom church is Brandy’s Piano Bar on a Wednesday night.  

The closing number, “Reach Out and Touch” (Nicholas Ashford, Valerie Simpson), is perhaps too much on the nose since the singer has pretty much been admonishing us to do that very thing for the entire show.  His choice to go the sing-along route with this one, à la Diana Ross, is a further irritation. Baskin encores with yet another medley and, in this case, I wish he hadn’t.  The medley climaxes with Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On;” he makes it an exciting and moving statement, but how much stronger it might have been in its complete form, separated from the other two Motown tunes which only serve to diminish its power.  

But Derrick Baskin’s debut is a legitimate, sparkling diamond to which, in my criticism of minor elements, I have tried to offer an added shine and polish to achieve an even more dazzling luster.  What a wonderful welcome back to the world of the living after a truly hellish year.  A hearty thank you to this very talented singer.

Presented at Feinstein’s/54 Below, June 29, 30 and July 2, 3.

Category: News / Reviews / Commentary

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Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry was (and will be) an artist in residence at Pangea and he has just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called "Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?"

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