BWW Interviews: DEREK KEELING of 'Million Dollar Quartet' Answers Our Silly Query
When you peruse Derek Keeling's impressive list of stage credits, you'll notice an interesting coincidence. Possessing a wonderful singing voice combined with charismatic matinee-idol looks that are punctuated with an old-school swagger, it's no wonder that he's developed quite a love affair with shows that turn the clocks back to the musically-rich decades of the 20th Century.
Best known to national audiences for placing in the top 3 of NBC's Grease: You're The One That I Want—a reality TV competition that sought out new talent for a new Broadway revival of GREASE—Keeling went on to play the infamous Danny Zuko in the summer of 2008, marking his Broadway debut (in a role, by the way, he has also portrayed "nearly 1,000" times in various professional productions across the U.S., Canada and Europe).
Sprinkled in between, he's been an L.A.-area favorite playing the "Fonz" in the HAPPY DAYS stage musical, Chad in Musical Theatre West's ALL SHOOK UP, plus roles in THE WEDDING SINGER and LIFE COULD BE A DREAM. And along with well-received concerts with Cal Philharmonic and at Feinstein's NYC, he has also won the Midtown International Theatre Festival Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical for his work on the off-Broadway production of CONNECT-DISCONNECT.
Fast forward to the fall of 2011, and this time Keeling has stepped into the shoes of another well-known musical icon: Johnny Cash. Taking on the coveted role of The Man in Black for the first national tour of the Tony Award-winning MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET—finally landing in Southern California at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa from April 24 through May 6—Keeling will be appearing shoulder-to-shoulder with Lee Ferris, Martin Kaye, and Cody Slaughter who will be embodying three other real-life musical legends: Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley, respectively.
Right before the show rocks out the O.C., BroadwayWorld subjected Keeling to a few silly, rapid-fire questions.
Subject: Derek Keeling
Hometown: Charleston, WV
What real-life musical icon would you not mind portraying next?
Tim McGRaw. Now that I've been playing Johnny Cash for a while, I have developed a taste for country music. I feel like Tim McGRaw is kind of like a modern day Johnny Cash with the way he tells stories with his music.
What is your must-do, pre-show ritual?
A nap is a must for me before this show. It's really the only way that I can relax my voice enough to hit all of the low notes of Johnny Cash. It's kind of the opposite of what I've had to do for every other show. Usually I would do about an hour of cardio to wake my body up before shows.
In ONE WORD, describe what goes through your head right before you step out on stage:
What's YOUR favorite musical show and/or cast album of all time?
Original Cast of RAGTIME. I love Bryan Stokes Mitchell.
What’s the song that you like belting in the shower or when you're all alone in the car?
I mainly sing Gospel songs in the shower, and songs from RAGTIME! I know, I'll never really get to sing that in a show.
What scares you the most?
Forgetting lines or lyrics.
What is your one guilty pleasure?
What do you like to do on your day off?
I like to get away and see the sights of whatever city we happen to be in. If there is a beach nearby, I'll find it! I use days off as a time to scope out the new city and find the best places to eat.
What instantly puts a smile on your face?
Seeing people I love laugh.
Name a dream role in another show you’d like to play someday…
I've become a fan of the new musical ONCE. I understudied Steve Kazee in one of my first professional jobs over 10 years ago at The Lost Colony. I just think it's great when artists get a chance to play an instrument in a show.
If you could trade lives with someone for one day, who would that person be and why?
I think it would be amazing to be the President for a day. It would just be interesting to find out what really goes on in the day-to-day of the government. I'm sure there is a lot we don't know about that goes on in the world on a daily basis.
If you weren't an actor, what other career do you see yourself doing?
I'm not exactly sure what else I would do if I wasn't an actor, but I'm sure it would be something more reliable and stable. I would want to be able to spend more time in one place with my family and enjoy a more quiet lifestyle.
Describe the most embarrassing moment that's happened to you during a show?
During the last revival of GREASE on Broadway, I had my nose broken during the finale! I was accidentally hit in the nose by someone's elbow during a dance break. Everything went black and I looked up and the whole audience was staring at me. It took me a moment to gather myself and I just continued to dance the rest of the show. People from the audience were staring at me funny. I didn't realize that I was bleeding from the top of my nose... I was really swollen. I think I was scaring some people!
And lastly, what has been your absolute favorite moment on stage so far?
I'm sure it will always be my Broadway debut. It was just such a big moment for me and the culmination of a lifelong dream. I remember someone telling me before I opened that I needed to be sure to take in the moment of stepping on that stage for the first time because it only happens once. I'm so glad that I did. It was truly a dream come true.
Follow West Coast Editor Michael L. Quintos on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ
Photo of Derek Keeling from the First National Tour of MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET by © Jeremy Daniel.
Performances of the 1st National Tour of MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts continue through May 6, 2012 and are scheduled Tuesday through Friday at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 7:30 pm, and Sundays at 1pm and 6:30pm.
Ticket prices start at $20 and can be purchased online at www.SCFTA.org, by phone at 714-556-2787 or in person at the SCFTA box office (open daily at 10 am). Segerstrom Center for the Arts is located at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa.
For tickets or more information, visit SCFTA.org. To learn more about Keeling, visit his website at www.derek-keeling.com