Some artists ignore the reviews. Not Dedrick Weathersby. Not when he’s trying to improve “Remembering James: The Life and Music of James Brown.”
So when a Los Angeles critic praised the stage presentation by the Vallejoan, but chastised a band member for wearing tennis shoes, Weathersby didn’t shrug it off.
Not by any means.
“I couldn’t be mad. He was absolutely correct,” said Weathersby, explaining that “we pulled some band members from L.A. and they had their ‘LAism’ on and not thinking of the uniformity and whom the show was about. I took it to heart.”
Weathersby brought it to his music director, emphasizing that polished dress shoes are part of the production “and that tennis shoes will not touch the stage.”
“He agreed,” Weathersby said.
It’s all about integrity and the performer steadfastly maintains his even as 25 “Remembering James” presentations were canceled or postponed because of COVID-19.
Some postponements are easier to handle than others, acknowledged Weathersby by phone.
Take the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem, N.Y. Basically, as the saying goes, if you make it there you can make it everywhere. And because of the pandemic, “Remembering James” has been postponed five times.
Yes, five times — a possible Apollo record, Weathersby mused.
“The great thing about it — the key — is not the postponement. It’s who’s doing the postponement. I’m just glad they’re talking to me,” Weathersby said. “This is the Apollo and I don’t take this lightly. They could be dealing with so many things, but they’ve kept me and ‘Remembering James’ in the conversation.”
Getting his pompadour into the Apollo door is a lesson in patience. Weathersby emailed a press kit and other information and got the call 14 months later. Seems there’s a board to impress, then a higher level board, then a committee, then an executive committee, and finally the booking coordinator.
Still, he wasn’t discouraged.
“I grew up on the Apollo. I know what it means to the Black community and Black entertainers,” Weathersby said.
Hopefully, “Remembering James” plays the iconic venue and if Weathersby does well, “it sends you to legendary stratosphere,” he said. “You say you’ve played the Apollo and everyone says ‘Wow.’ It means something.”
James Brown recorded three live albums at the Apollo — released in 1963, 1968 and 1971 — making the pending appearance of the tribute show more spectacular, said Weathersby said.
While on “Remember James” hiatus, Weathersby returned to his musical theatre roots, recording “5 Minutes to Places,” a downloadable “Make Them Hear You,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Try to Remember.”
“That was just me reminiscing on a lot of shows,” he said. “I was missing theater so much.”
Each of the tunes “has a story — a personal story,” said Weathersby, satisfied with his three-week labor of love.
“I feel really good about it,” he said. “I wanted more songs but it would have been over-doing it. I put something out to my listeners and to the community and for myself. These songs are most in line with who I am as an artist and as a person.”
Classically-trained, “for me to dive back into Broadway standards and get into my baritone and my tenor range means a lot,” Weathersby said.
Looking at the photographs of some of his past stage roles “brought back memories,” Weathersby says.
Unfortunately, performing the highly-acclaimed “Remembering James” is becoming nostalgic. The last show Weathersby did was Nov. 21 in Meridian, Miss., at 50 percent room capacity.
His next “Remembering” confirmed date is July 24 at the East Bank Theatre in Bossier City, La.
Of course, anything can happen between now and then.
“It is the year of reinvention,” Weathersby said. “We’re doing things to make sure we stay sharp and be ready for a full schedule in 2022.”
Fortunately, through all the postponements “all the relationships are intact,” Weathersby says.
While not opposing a possible residency in Las Vegas, “the main thing is getting it to Broadway,” said Weathersby.
After a year of the pandemic, Weathersby said “there are have some trying days, but my mental and physical health is very good. There’s been a lot of ‘personal therapy,’ making sure I’m mentally ready and prepared for what’s coming.”
While “Remembering James” awaits COVID-19 clearance, Weathersby is producing a children’s play with summer auditions and an accompanying audiobook.
“I’m really excited about that,” he said.
That’s not to say he’s stopped working on improving “Remember James.” That’s ongoing.
“The wheels are always turning,” Weathersby said.
For information about “Remembering James” and “5 Minutes to Places,” visit dedrickweathersby.com or rememberingjamesonemanshow.com.