As a very young man, Dedrick Weathersby learned early on about the magic of the genre called “soul music.”
It came from watching his parents dance to the great soul sounds of the ‘60s in their Longview, Texas home. Whether it was the hits of Motown or the forceful, visceral passion of James Brown, the delicious sounds of soul placed in Weathersby endless possibilities.
“Every time we were cleaning the house, we had on oldies but goodies from eight tracks or 12 inch albums,” said Weathersby. “I loved it. That’s when I first fell in love with music, when I would listen to my mom and dad’s tracks and watch how it made them move.”
For Weathersby, you can say that watching his parent’s dance was his first real character study. That led him to dance moves in the kitchen as a young child, which then led to participation in local talent shows, and ultimately to the Bay Area where he now lives and performs.
Weathersby’s latest endeavor is playing the ultra-confident showman James “Thunder” Early in the Stage 1 production of “Dreamgirls,” which opens Saturday, Sept. 26th. Having played the role only a year ago has given him a great opportunity to keep learning about Early, a character that might be seen as an Rhythm & Blues mixture of Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Marvin Gaye and the Godfather of Soul, James Brown.
The musical, written by Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen, follows the girl group The Dreams, based on Motown legends The Supremes, among other girl groups of the era. Multiple decades are explored as three young, naïve talents navigate their way through the thrill of the road in their youth, and through the ugliness and racism of the music industry, as they get older. Featuring a dazzling score of R & B and soul sounds, the show features powerful standards such as “Fake Your Way to the Top,” “I am Changing,” and the super musical theatre standard “And I am Telling You.”
Early is a confident, brash sort that can back it up with his brilliance on the stage. But for the 25-year-old Weathersby, this role can be intimidating, downright scary even. For a black actor with triple threat skills, Early is a dream role in a world that doesn’t feature nearly enough of these kinds of roles.
“I feel that if you can do this, you can do anything,” said Weathersby. “You have to really get into the music and stay true to the music. You have to even go beyond being a triple threat; there is so much you have to do.
“Any actor of color that really wants to prove themselves wants a role like this.”
It’s a role Weathersby learned about when he was 16. His parents, recognizing their son’s talents, had their own ideas as to the best place for him to showcase his skills.
“My parents told me that if I wanted to see true talent, ‘Dreamgirls’ is where it’s at,” said Weathersby. “When I saw some of Jimmy Early’s songs, I thought to myself I can never do that.
“I put in the practice with a vocal coach, and worked on my dancing and singing songs full out to build up stamina, and I actually faced my fear and did it.”
Having a character in the mind for a year after playing the character initially has allowed Weathersby to build off of prior knowledge and make the character grow. There’s not just joy in Early, but also plenty of heartache and despair. Finding all of that truth is something that Weathersby made a priority in his preparation.
“I really had to give him layers, because when he first comes out, he is bigger than life,” said Weathersby. “The last time I did the role, I really had to make him true and dissect the meaning of making him true. Of course it’s entertainment, but behind closed doors, he’s lost, dealing with real situations and is actually alone.”
One of James Brown’s most famous nicknames is “The hardest working man in show business.” Weathersby has taken that to heart, letting the music do the talking, and not leaving anything to chance.
“When everyone was sleeping, James Brown was working, and that’s what I want to do,” said Weathersby. “I want to make sure that Jimmy is the hardest working man in this show and of his time era.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
Stage 1 Theatre presents “Dreamgirls”
Music by Henry Krieger
Lyrics and book by Tom Eyen
Directed by Dawn Troup-Masi
Vocal direction by Eileen Deadwiler
Choreographed by Gary Stanford
Through Oct. 11th
Newark Memorial High School Theatre
39375 Cedar Boulevard, Newark CA
Tickets range from $15 – $50
For tickets, visit Stage 1’s official website