Backstage with Playwright Andre Darby
DeLand resident brings theatrical, musical talent to local audience
BY PENNY DICKERSON
DeLand playwright and gospel recording artist Andre Darby returned to his high school alma mater last week for the production of his original, comedy-drama stage play, “My Prodigal Child.”
Held in the DeLand High School auditorium, the community production was inspired by the biblical story of the “Prodigal Son.” Darby’s production centers on a woman who abandons motherhood in the efforts of pursuing a lavish lifestyle with her drug-dealing boyfriend. However, her praying mother refuses to give up hope and believes her daughter will find her way home.
“The highlight for me is when main character Vanessa realizes no matter how much you mess up in your life or the direction you go, it’s great to be able to come home, find redemption and a fresh start in life,” stated Darby, who is proud to return to his native roots to advance the performing arts.
A starring role
A 40-year-old accomplished songwriter, pianist and drummer, Darby wrote the play in 2013 following the stage debut that catapulted his own career. He was cast in the lead role of his first audition and starred in the gospel musical “Tell Hell I Ain’t Coming,” which toured in the United Kingdom. When the tour ended, Darby was ready to take his creativity to the next level.
“I received a call on a Wednesday to replace ‘American Idol’ winner Ruben Studdard in the gospel musical “I Need an Angel,” Darby shared. “I had to report for the performance the next day and that’s where I met cast members Carl Payne, Jackee Harris and many others who I kept in touch with.”
Celebrity in the cast
Payne is best known for his multiple co-starring roles as a comedic sidekick in two television sitcoms made popular in the 1980s – “Cockroach’’ on “The Cosby Show’’ and “Cole Brown’’ on “Martin.’’
Darby was able to hire his talented friend to star in “My Prodigal Child” for what he refers to as a seriously discounted, “Homeboy Rate.”
Payne was the only paid performer in the $7,500 budget comprised of local theater volunteers who rehearsed for three months prior to the July 25 show. Payne joined the cast three days prior to curtain call and according to Darby, he equitably combined scripted and improvisational acting for a stellar performance.
“No matter what I accomplish, I like to give back to my community,” said Darby who seeks to establish mentoring programs for performing arts in the urban community to build a platform for locals of all ages to showcase their talents, but reminds that community support is very important, which is how Tyler Perry got his start.
“It takes support to build dreams,” Darby quipped.
He also looks forward to teaming up with his Grammy-award winning brother Terrence Trent D’Arby, who is currently based and touring in Milan, Italy.
“We have discussed producing a duet, and he’s interested in being part of a musical score for a DVD production of my play,” said Darby.
Negotiations are currently underway for 2016 performance dates in Orlando and Jacksonville.