Here is Part 4 of our series of behind the scenes interviews with the director and cast of 1st Stage’s Altar Boyz. Now, meet Derek Tatum.
Derek: My name is Derek John Tatum and I am originally from the DC area. I started dancing when I was three and got into musical theatre around the 8th grade with Musical Theater Center in Rockville. I have had the chance to play a lot of great roles. Most of them are the young leading man/supporting roles. Sonny (Xanadu), Link (Hairspray), Michael (Smokey Joe’s Cafe), Will Parker (Oklahoma!), and Riff (West Side Story)
Joel: Where did you get your theatre/vocal training?
I got my training mostly at Musical Theater Center when I became a member of their performing ensembles in 8th grade. I didn’t start getting more serious about vocal training till my teens and I took with different teachers in the area such as Lisa Carrier, Rosie Dyer, and Ric Ryder. I also did a few workshops with George Fulginiti- Shakar (The Studio Theatre) and Bob Cline (NYC).
Why did you want to appear in 1st Stage’s production of Altar Boyz?
That’s easy! Because this is a FANTASTIC SHOW and the creative team seems so wonderful. I have really been enjoying performing away from home on cruise ships, theme parks, and other regional theatres. However, I am trying to break back into the DC area theatre scene since this is my hometown and I think that this is the perfect way to start that process.
Have you seen the show before and have you appeared in Altar Boyz before?
I had the pleasure of seeing the DC premier of Altar Boyz in Bethesda a few years ago and loved it. As soon as I saw the audition for Altar Boyz I jumped at the chance to be part of this show. This will be my debut for Altar Boyz and 1st Stage.
Introduce us to your role and how you relate to the person you are playing?
I am playing the “bad” boy of the boyz, Luke. Ironically, both of us are very similar in a historical sense. I am half-Greek and majored in Biology before I realized I wanted to pursue the life of an actor. According to the Bible, Luke was a physician and was Greek himself. The character of Luke in the show is portrayed as the not so bright, recovering alcoholic, and party boy. Many of my friends will tell you that I do not follow those characteristics. However, I definitely know how to have fun and liven up a party. People say I have a lot of soul in my voice and dance moves, which is an asset in playing this role. Luke requires a strong urban personality and heavy dance/vocal training.
What is Altar Boyz about from Luke’s point of view?
Altar Boyz is set up as a boy band concert that aims to cleanse the audience of their sins. The boyz are touring in order to spread the word of the gospel through funky music and moves. It is a complete satire on NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, etc. My character specifically was a drop out in school and seemed to have no guidance on where his life was going to take him. Finally, he comes to G.O.D. and is very driven to spread the word of the gospel through the errors of his ways. There are several lyrics in the songs and script which show that Luke goes back and forth in terms of dealing with his problem with “exhaustion.” I’ll let you figure that one out.
Have any of you worked together before?
This is the first time I have worked with any of the boyz and I hope it will not be the last. The boyz, creative team, and 1st Stage have been an absolute pleasure to work with and I believe that this show will hopefully attract a good crowd from the DC area. Our director Steven Royal is really helpful in allowing us to develop our characters and has put a lot of work into this project. The entire 1st Stage/Altar Boyz team makes me feel so welcome and it is comforting to see that they are extremely excited about the show as well.
What did you sing at your audition, and why did you select that song?
When I found out about the audition, I was in NYC so I headed over to the “Colony” over in Times Square and picked up a copy of the Backstreet Boys’ music. It brought back so many memories! After much consideration I chose “I Want It That Way” because I thought it showed range and most importantly fit the boy band sound that this show requires.
How did you prepare for your role?
First of all, I always do some background analysis of a character before I begin my work. If you look in the script and lyrics, it tells you a lot about the character and their back story. Then you can fill in the rest according to your “choices” as an actor. I also looked at several clips of boy-bands performing/interacting on stage with each other and the audience. Since I previously performed with the “Dynamic” hip-hop dance team at University of MD, I was already familiar with the moves and lingo that go along with my character.
What have been some of the challenges you have had preparing for your role and rehearsing?
I’d say that one of the main challenging aspects of this show is the tight harmonies and the amount of songs we learn. The show is like an ongoing concert so there is a lot of preparation that goes into it. In terms of my role, I would say that the most challenging aspect is to see how oblivious to make “Luke” when he delivers some of his lines. Luke is a guy who means well, but does not have a filter on his mouth which makes the character very funny. He freely speaks his mind in the show and preaches to the audience in a very urban tone. I also have to determine how successful Luke really is in his effort to changes his ways from being “exhausted” because there are still some parts in the show which show he might not be in the clearing yet. This affects my choice on how my mental state should be when I am performing in the show and to determine how sober I really am.
What have you learned about yourself – the actor/singer – since becoming involved in this production?
I have learned that even if I am given roles outside my comfort zone, I am still able to adapt and have fun with developing that character. I have also learned to really tone my vocals as we try to blend as a group vs. other lead roles I have performed where I have needed to belt with strong vibrato sound. We are each leads in a way and we all contribute equally to make the show what it is.
What is the most vocally challenging song for you in the show?
Believe it or not I would say that my solo “Body, Mind, and Soul” is the most challenging. Not the beginning part so much, but the ending “gospel church” section requires some serious James Brown riffing.
Why do you think Altar Boyz is so popular all around the world?
There is no doubt that the reason Altar Boyz is popular is because it makes fun of both boy bands and religion while still sending a good message. By making fun of these different personalities (the boyz) in the show, it teaches the audience that you still can be accepted by GOD despite your sexuality, race, or lifestyle. It also allows the actors and audience to be a part of a different type of musical which is more like a concert vs. a dramatic musical in which the performers do not interact directly with the audience.
Why should DC theatregoers come and see you in Altar Boyz?
This is a fantastic show filled with catchy songs, hot dance numbers, and will have you laughing so hard you won’t need to do those crunches for a few days. Both religious theatre goers and boy band lovers will adore this show as long as you come to it with an open mind. This is seriously more like a concert than your typical musical so it will not be like most theatre productions in the area. I have always wanted to be part of a boy band and on November 23rd when we open, Altar Boyz is going to take DC by storm!
‘The’re the Altar Boyz': Part One: Steven Royal on Directing Altar Boyz at 1st Stage.
‘They’re the Altar Boyz’ Part Two: Meet Zack Powell.
‘They’re the Altar Boyz’ Part Three: Meet Edward Nagel.