He was a precocious little boy — singing, playing the piano, and leading the choir in the church where his mother was pastor when he was just 12 years old.
“Maybe I was a little precocious at the time, but I enjoyed performing and helping to teach others,” says Broadway actor and 2014 Barrymore winner for Supporting Actor in a Musical, Derrick Cobey. “I remember looking up at the choir and thinking I want to make this better.”
And on Sunday, Sept. 6, Cobey will join other well-known performers at Bristol Riverside Theater to make the theater’s annual Broadway Summer Spectacular the best it can be.
Growing up, Cobey, an Alexandria, Virginia, native, eventually went off to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C., to study opera. But a class trip to New York soon changed his mind — and his future.
“We saw Susan Stroman’s revival of ‘Showboat’ on Broadway,” Cobey remembers, “and from that moment on I knew I didn’t want to study opera, but I wanted to sing and dance and act. And 10 years later, it was Susan Stroman herself who gave me my first Broadway gig in ‘Scottsboro Boys.’
“I always enjoyed learning opera, but for me, it just wasn’t inspiring enough. But musical theater was,” he adds.
And so it was off to Baldwin-Wallace University to study musical theater, and after graduating, a career highlighted by many memorable moments.
Cobey has made quite a name for himself, first touring in “Rent,” and then “Forever Swing.” He’s appeared off-Broadway in such productions as “I Am Harvey Milk” and “Ragtime,” among others. Some of his Broadway credits are legend, including his last appearance in Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me Kate.” He’s also done a great deal of regional productions, including many right here in Philly, a place he considers his “home away from home.”
Of course, this current pandemic has curtailed much of Cobey’s live appearances (the BRT show will be pre-recorded) but he has no trouble keeping up with his talent.
He says, “This current concert helps. I’ve had to learn how to set up my own camera and my own microphone and do everything from home. And I think when everything gets back to normal — whatever that is — we may see even more of this because certain theaters have shown great determination in keeping things going.”
And when not performing in any way he can, Cobey has developed a number of other interesting pursuits.
“I’ve sold really nice men’s clothing at a friend’s boutique in Soho. And I teach acting. As far as hobbies, I took up origami and I’m learning how to cook because I knew eventually I would go stir crazy if I didn’t start learning new things.”
Among all the things he does, Cobey says the thing he enjoys most is sharing his gift with others.
“I love making that human connection that doesn’t happen that often, especially making that connection with an audience,” he says. “And that’s why I love what I do.”