A THOUSAND TINY STEPS

Is This Really Broadway?

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Top photo: Derek standing behind Molly in 2016. Bottom photo: Derek with Barb family after the show 2023
Top Photo Derek directly above Molly taken April 4, 2016. Bottom after the show July 9, 2023.

We drove to New York City on Sunday.

This in and of itself is no big deal, I have driven to NYC many times. I have gone there to see my larger-than-life billboard in Madison Square. I have gone there to deliver cats to JFK airport. I have run track and cross-country meets there. I have had brain surgery there.

One thing I have never done is see a Broadway show.

Funny Girl is playing at the August Wilson Theater. I remember the movie of the same title starring Barbra Streisand. I loved it, the whole idea of a regular girl making it big, So Kenny, Gracie, Jack and I arose early and packed the car. Off we went to The Big Apple. I know what you must be thinking. Why on earth are you taking a two-year-old to see Funny Girl?

Derek Taylor was in it that’s why!

Molly and Derek danced at CDA together for roughly six years. Derek always liked Molly because she treated him “normal”. Being a boy in a dance school, you get used to being surrounded by girls. Derek was active and funny and a natural on the stage. Some of Gracie’s and my best memories of those early years at dance involve the Taylors. We spent the night in a teeny hotel room at one dance competition, all squished into that little room because Maria knew I was struggling for money. Kayla, Derek, Molly and Gracie had a blast.

Derek had a hard time when Molly died.

In that week following her death Derek was there all day every day. He never left her side. In a heart wrenching final goodbye, he promised her he would do great things. That he would make it big. He thanked her for being a good friend. I sat on the other side of a curtain silently sobbing as this occurred.

I will never forget it.

That was seven years ago May 5th. Seven years. As an adult this is nothing. As a grieving mother it is an instant and forever. For Derek it is age 12 to age 19. His teen years, almost 13 when she died not quite twenty when he arrives on the Broadway stage. He is the youngest cast member by over five years. The “youngsters” in the cast are in their late twenties. He is on Broadway before his twentieth birthday!

To call this remarkable is an understatement.

Derek is an amazing athlete. One month in to triple jumping and he was ranked number one in the state. He could dance around a basketball court as if it were a ballet stage. But his days were full of theater and dance. I remember watching a recording of him singing a duet with Rachel Revellese, another CDA dancer and thespian. They were singing “When Christmas Came to Town” from The Polar Express. I was in bed watching it on my phone with Molly and Gracie asleep in either side of me.

Tears streamed down my face as I listened.

When Molly got into theater one of her favorite people to hang with was Derek. She loved everyone, but they had a connection. She would give him peptalks and ease his mind. They would talk on facetime in the evenings as they did their homework. He would remind her to ignore others if they were making her feel bad.

They got each other.

About a month before she died, I was at a dance competition. There was a Jazz Dance that they were in together. Derek was the only boy and the dance was themed around him. When the dancers came out there was no Derek. I thought this to be odd and wondered what could have happened. I went back stage shortly after this dance.

Maria met me and asked me to help Derek.

He was dressed for his next number. It was the big musical theater number that was performed at MollyB, The Musical. He was a wreck. Anxious and panic stricken. I had never seen him like this. He was having terrible anxiety over a family member who was supposed to be in the audience. He felt judged and criticized and was in a state of terror I had never seen. I peeked around the curtain and assured Derek that this person wasn’t there.

He was afraid he would throw up on stage.

I walked him through all of the possible outcomes and solutions for this potential event. I told him he could do it and that even though he didn’t want to, he had to. Thirty of his closest dance friends were counting on him. Needless to say, he went out and performed like a pro. People often think, because you are good at something, that you don’t get afraid of failure or embarrassment. Derek was funny and cute and talented and popular, but in that moment, he felt none of those things.

He felt like a failure.

His road to Broadway was not without potholes. After Molly died, he had a rough 8th grade. On the outside he was the same old Derek, dancing and acting and singing. But he struggled to find his place. Maria is white, Derek’s father is black. As a mixed-race person of color, it is easy to always feel like you don’t quite fit in anywhere. He was a boy in what is often thought of as a girl’s world. While he was sought after by his dance friends, he felt ridiculed at times by boys at school who teased him about this. Boys play sports, right? They don’t sing and dance.

But Derek did.

He wrote in a scholarship application of how he finally came to realize that he was just fine the way he was and could stop trying to meet some random standard for boys in high school. When I read that application, I cried. He silently struggled with feeling acceptance from some of those closest to him. Maria, Derek’s mother, is his biggest fan. She is there for him every step of the way. His sister Kayla as well. In high school, though, you want everyone’s approval, especially close family.

In the summer of 2017. Just before Derek entered high school, Elite Dance Nationals were in Maine. It would be the last time CDA went to the nationals as a full school. In the line tap number Derek looked a bit off. Watching his face, I could see it. He was going to get sick. This had been a worry of his for a year or so. He always managed to keep it down. Not this time. We sat in the audience and watched as Derek and his dance mates completed the dance perfectly. Creatively dancing around the vomit on the floor. I bolted from my seat and went to the dressing room.

He was showered with love and support from all around him.

We laughed and made him laugh. We reminded him that this is not all that uncommon. I told him my now famous story of the time I puked and peed as I finished a cross-country race in college. In the quiet after the chaos, I told him that he had finally done it! Puked on stage in a national competition. It had happened and he was still alive. All was still well and life went on like it always does.

So why am I telling you this?

Because before he was even through his sophomore year of college at The Boston Conservatory of Music, he made it to Broadway. Amazing and talented performers take years to make it there. He did what all successful, kind, empathetic, motivated, self-driven people do. He used his struggles, tests, and tragedies as fuel for his success. He created a picture in his head and looked at it as he fell asleep. He thought about it as he danced, he leaned on it in every theater performance.

He chose a college where he would be with people who understood him.

We arrived at the theater about an hour before show time. Along with many others we hovered around the stage door. I couldn’t wait to see him. After a quick hello he went inside and we found our seats. Jack was amazing. He was silent and mesmerized throughout act one. While I had to nurse him quite a few times, when there was a tap number on stage he was riveted.

But it was all about Derek.

Here we were in NYC. The theater was packed. People paid good money for their tickets. Lea Michelle, (think Glee or the movie New Year’s Eve) played Fanny Brice. We were at a Broadway Musical. And Derek Taylor, sweet voiced, hyperactive, funny, sensitive, pain in the ass Derek Taylor was right there! Kenny Gracie and I looked at each other and smiled every time he was on stage.

He is a swing.

This means that he plays one of five ensemble roles depending on which one needs covering. The one we saw, his favorite, had him dancing a tap duet. Derek Taylor, on the Broadway Stage with ONLY ONE other person tap dancing like he owns the place. Like any ensemble role, he was a number of characters through out the story. Another key scene had him sitting on a couch, linking arms with Fanny (Lea Michelle) and surrounded by all the female characters.

Gracie and I were dying.

As I watched him, as I observed his familiar posture and facial expressions, as I watched his feet make those astounding sounds and his arms maneuver the rifle (military theme) it all came rushing back to me. Every play, recital, competition, and rehearsal existed in Derek as I watched him. Tears stream as I write this now but I was able to contain myself in the theater.

I saw every memory in that dance.

We met up after the performance and had a visit. There are Concord people at several performances each week. I do not think he has done one yet without someone he knows in the audience. I asked him how he felt about it all. Was he overwhelmed? Was he scared? Was he confident and happy? He grinned at me and replied that he was having a blast. That he had made it! He was here. All of those decisions and internal conversations and sacrifices had come together.

He was a Broadway performer.

We walked toward his bus station. I asked him what had he had liked most about BoCo. He said, “one of my teachers, this teacher changed my life. I thought about that. I thought about how much confidence you get from having an expert like a teacher or coach believe in you. I thought about all of Derek’s self-doubt in his younger years as he was looking for that confirmation. Proof that he was doing the right thing, that he was fine just the way he was.

And he is.

As the youngest cast member, he spends much of his free time alone. He completes the tasks of living on his own. Laundry, grocery shopping, working out, relaxing. He has plans for after this show closes although he was vague about them. He has incredible perspective on his life and all that brought him here.

When I was nineteen my biggest concerns were running and drinking.

I watched him walk down the sidewalk and stop to cross the street. I stared at him for a bit and the movie of Molly’s short life played out in my head. I thought about how quickly he had realized his dream, made it a reality, and set up plans for its continued growth. I thought about seven years ago and his deathbed promise to his friend Molly. I thought about all he had navigated to get right here. My heart was full and I had no words, just love.

I am proud of you Derek. Break a leg!

5 Responses

  1. This is beautiful! ❤️ Thank you Barb! You guys mean so much to us! ❤️❤️❤️

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