Black Shakespeare(ans) Database

Darius de Haas

Artist Profile by Orliana Morag


Darius de Haas enjoys a multifaceted career as an award-winning widely acclaimed popular singer and actor. Born in Chicago and raised in a musical family he has proven successful as a performer ranging from the Broadway stage to recordings to concert venues throughout the world. He has been described as “Electrically thrilling” (New York Times) and as a vocalist “who can reveal the sorrows, pains and joys of the composer’s richly layered repertoire with an intensity and honesty that easily envelops and mesmerizes the listener.”- (Variety)

A versatile artist- He is the singing voice of “Shy Baldwin” on the TV show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, was part of the original Broadway cast of Rent, and he is known to musical theater fans for his roles of Cain/Japheth in the musical Children of Eden in which he sang “Lost In The Wilderness” (preserved on the RCA cast recording).

Darius made his Broadway debut in the original production of Kiss of the Spiderwoman starring Chita Rivera. This was followed up by the original Broadway casts of Rent, The Gershwins’ Fascinating Rhythm, Marie Christine, Lincoln Center’s revival of Carousel, and Shuffle Along. He has also performed in the staged anniversary concerts of Dreamgirls and Hair for The Actors Fund. 

He received the Obie Award for the title role in the premiere of Running Man. Other notable premieres include Cry the Beloved Country, Jesus Christ Superstar- Gospel, the John Adams/ June Jordan opera I Was Looking At The Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky, The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds her Chameleon Skin, and “Duke Senior” in the Public Theater/ Public Works production of As You Like It.

His Carnegie Hall performances include the Cincinnati Pops as well as “Too Hot To Handel” (conducted by Marin Alsop). Other notable concerts include The Lincoln Center American Songbook (Billy Strayhorn and Stevie Wonder music), Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concert at Disney Concert Hall, and The Alvin Ailey Dance Theater’s 50th Anniversary Gala. His singular abilities and musical range have established him as a performer in a variety of settings as well as a guest with several orchestras and groups including London’s Royal Festival Hall, The Kennedy Center, The National Symphony, The Philly Pops, Baltimore Symphony, and The Los Angeles Master Chorale. He has performed, recorded and/or toured with such diverse artists as Elvis Costello, Deborah Harry, Marvin Hamlisch, Roberta Flack, and Vanessa Williams.

TV appearances include his 5 years as a correspondent on In The Life, Great Performances: Broadway In Love, A&E’s Private Sessions and Dietland. His voice can be heard on numerous original cast recordings and soundtracks – including all the “Shy Baldwin” tracks on The Marvelous Mrs Maisel.

His solo works include Darius de Haas: Day Dream-Variations on Strayhorn and Quiet Please (with pianist Steven Blier). He is proud to work with such organizations as The Fair Housing Justice Center and serves on the International Board of Directors for Covenant House serving homeless youth throughout North and South America. Darius is a founding member of Black Theatre United, an organization whose mission is to inspire reform and combat systemic racism within the theatre community and throughout the nation, supporting the Black community through various resources and initiatives.

Contact Information

For Darius de Haas’ contact information, click here.

Full Interview Transcript


Morag: Okay, so I am beyond thrilled to present Darius de Haas, a widely acclaimed actor and singer. Darius was a member of the original Broadway productions of “Kiss of the SpiderWoman” with Chita Rivera, “Rent,” “The Gershwin’s Fascinating Rhythm,” “Marie Christine,” Lincoln Center’s revival of “Carousel,” and “Shuffle Along.” He has also performed in the stage anniversary concerts of “Dream Girls” and “Hair” for the Actors’ Fund. 

Not content to just be an Obie Award-winning stage actor, Darius is also a highly accomplished singer, having performed in Carnegie Hall with the Cincinnati Pops, and in “Too Hot to Handel” conducted by Marin Alsop. Other notable concerts include the Lincoln Center American Songbook, Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concert at Disney Concert Hall, and the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater’s 50th anniversary Gala. 

Darius has many more impressive roles and performances I could list but today, we’re going to be focusing specifically on his work with Shakespeare, and the New York Public Works’ adaptation of “As You Like It” wherein he played Duke Senior. Thank you so much for speaking with me today!

de Haas: Thank you for having me.

Morag: So why don’t we just jump right in. And first of all, I’d love to know, how were you introduced to Shakespeare?

de Haas: Oh, wow. Well, I was, I guess unofficially introduced to Shakespeare, you know, I’m originally from Chicago, I grew up on the south side of Chicago. And the very first Shakespeare production I saw was “As You Like It.” I was a little, little, little boy and I saw it at the South Shore Country Club, which had not been used in a long, long time. It was this big structure, big ground sort of place where they did different cultural activities and different community things and they happened to present the production of “As You Like It.” I forget which theater company because I think it was an official theatre company, maybe Chicago Shakespeare Rep, I’m not sure. But it was wonderful actors, a lot of whom went on to really great careers. This was very, very early on in their careers. And so that was my introduction to it. And I can’t say that I understood everything that I was seeing, but I was highly entertained by what they were doing, and it was very simple. There wasn’t a lot of bells and whistles, it was very much a Mickey, Judy, let’s put on a show and just a few little costume pieces, a few little props. I remember Touchstone was played by a wonderful actor, very distinguished Chicago actor whose name is escaping me. I’m so sorry that I can’t remember his name. But he had a little kazoo. So it was just, it was lovely. It was really, really lovely. 

Morag: That’s fascinating. For this course, we’ve been speaking to a lot of different actors and directors and most of them were introduced to Shakespeare through reading it in high school classes and initially hated it. So it’s interesting that your first experience was visual and actually seeing a stage production. 

de Haas: Yeah, I did very little reading of Shakespeare in school, interestingly enough. Not until I was in high school when I, even though it’s normally not declared until college, I was an acting major in high school. We had a pretty extensive theatre department, a progressive theatre department, I guess. And so I was involved in theater pretty intensively from the time I was a freshman in high school. And even though we even still didn’t do a lot of Shakespeare, we did some, and I was not very good. I remember maybe doing one workshop, and there was something that wasn’t quite jelling for me. I mean, I appreciated the idea of it, and the importance of it, but it wasn’t quite connecting for me yet. 

Even going into my professional career, and I started working professionally when I was seventeen in Chicago, I remember the very first Shakespeare show that I was called in to audition for was “The Tempest.” I believe I had just done a show at Northlight Theater in Evanston, Illinois, and I, for some reason, I’m remembering having to go to Northlight to audition for it at a place in that area. And I read for it. And, again, I wasn’t very good. Because I was getting it but it wasn’t flowing. I wasn’t quite getting the whole thing of iambic pentameter. Really I just never had that time where I sat with an instructor, working on it. Even when I was in college in Chicago—I went to Columbia College—I did the musical version of “The Taming of the Shrew”: “Kiss Me Kate.” So we did some delving into “Taming of the Shrew.” And so I got it in a very general sense. 

But it really, really wasn’t until I was much older and I did a production of “Twelfth Night” at the Westport Country Playhouse. Mark Lamos, who was the artistic director of Westport Country Playhouse, said, “I think you can really do this. And I think you’d be great as Feste. Why don’t we try it?” And I went and auditioned for him. I was raggedy, I thought. But he said, “You know what, we’re gonna make this work.” And I think the best thing that I could have done for myself, and I’m so glad I had the wherewithal to say this, I was like, “Look, I know nothing, just please be very patient with me. And I will work very hard. And I will do this.” The coach that they hired for the show, she was really great for me, she was really great. She really correlated working on the text with me as a singer, because she said, “You sing, right? And if you think of these phrases and really giving the cadence to the phrases with the specificity of the way you phrase when you sing, you’ll start to get the rhythm.” And that, that is what opened the door for me.

Morag: Yeah, linking singing with Shakespeare is not something I’ve considered before but seems to be a very useful way of approaching it. 

Haas: Oh, yeah. Well, it’s all musical. It’s all musical. I mean, even one of the most recent jobs that I did, I worked on a show called “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” I supplied a singing voice for a character, and the actor I worked with, Leroy McClain, is a very highly trained Shakespearean actor. The way he and I worked together, because he was dubbing my singing voice, all of that he notated in the same way that one would notate Shakespeare first. That is how he learned in terms of the breaths, in terms of the pauses, in terms of the cadence, that was his way into learning how to follow my pattern in my singing. So we did a lot of talking about Shakespeare and singing and voice and truly, it gives you everything. Writing gives you everything, and this is very, sort of, basic to say probably, but it’s timeless. And I think that’s why Shakespeare can be done in so many different ways, and applied in so many different ways. 

Morag: That actually transitions beautifully into my next question. 

de Haas: I planned that.

Morag: I was watching your interview with Susan Booth for “The Artist’s Approach,” and you mentioned that when you were in “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” you had to take what you knew about the show and let it go. 

de Haas: Yes.

Morag: And so, with Shakespeare being so timeless, you also need to reinvent it. How do you let what you know about Shakespeare go for Shakespeare productions or how do you reinvent those roles? 

de Haas: Well, I find as I get older, the more I can go into anything with little to no expectation in terms of what I think something is going to be, the better it is for me because it allows me to be free. And it also allows me to really receive what the director or what the composer, or what anyone is giving me to interpret. The wonderful interpreters of Shakespeare, they don’t always or let’s say, even Judi Dench, who is one of the master interpreters of Shakespeare, but there’s something about the way that she goes into saying the verse that makes you sort of lean in and makes you hear it fresh. So even though I have no idea what her process is, I would imagine she’s like, “How do I reinvest? What new thing can I discover as I explore this text?” And I think that’s always a very good thing to follow, particularly in this day and age is we are sort of in a big transition coming out of what we’ve come out of pandemic-wise, in terms of race relations, in terms of how we see the world, and how we apply art to those different situations. 

So yeah, in terms of “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” because I was a big “Jesus Christ, Superstar” fan, and I knew that show inside out. But it was a reinvestigating of that show from a very particular point of view. And it opened me up in a way that I didn’t even expect, and those are the best experiences for me.

Morag: Yeah, well, the production of “As You Like It,” that you were in for the New York Public Works’, that also came with a very particular moment, in the zeitgeist. So can you speak a little bit to your experience with that production and the adaptation specifically, of being a musical? And what was it like working with a community of actors that weren’t necessarily all professionally trained actors? 

de Haas: It was wonderful. It was wonderful, on every point, and again, I had to go into it being very open, and not having any expectations. The way Public Works’, which was founded by Lear deBessonet and then has been carried on beautifully by Laurie Woolery who directed “As You Like It,” the way that works, it really puts the community front, foremost. And when you go into it with that train of thought, then I think that will allow you to have the best experience because you really do have to interact. You know, there was no separating of “Okay, well, these are the equity actors, and these are the community actors, and these are the professionals and these…” There was none of that the way they cast us, at least the way they cast “As You Like It.” 

I had done a workshop on it, we’d done a reading of it where it was, I think, it was primarily all equity actors at the Public Theater just so Shaina Taub, who wrote this adaptation, could hear it, hear it immediately. Concurrently, Lori was working with the community and prepping them for the show, doing whatever their process is with the different community groups. I think it’s like six or seven different community groups and taking them through exercises, taking them through work with techs, working with them how to project and really working on how to connect what the text is to the situation so it doesn’t seem like it’s this sort of faraway thing. So while they were doing that, we were doing, I think it was like a week-long workshop. And, I knew that, above anything else, I really want to do this production. I really want this because for some reason, I just, I felt, I get this on some level. I really get this and I feel it’s very rare when as an actor when you can go in, and you feel something is so right for you from a character, age, vocal, physical, all those things. Duke Senior probably, is the oldest character that I’ve portrayed on stage, I think, and it was a relief. I felt I can have the beginnings of the gravitas to pull this off, and then the way that they used Duke Senior, it was almost like, well, did I in another life nudge Shaina Taub and say, “You could write this role for me. This will be really, really nice.” I really was able to fall into it. 

It also, like “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” at the Alliance with Susan, it was a huge community. The parallels between those two productions are really quite interesting. Because it was a huge community group, I was in a role where I was having to lead the community group, and really engage and really take time with people and really connect with them. And learning the Shakespeare, absolutely. But it was really about connecting with community, which, you know, not only for the Public Works’, but I think for the idea of the public theater, that was, that is the idea of really bringing theater to the public. Not just having the public observe and watch and be entertained, but saying, look, this is also for you. 

And it was interesting because that was in 2017, when the current, that particular White House administration was deporting all the immigrants and putting a stop to DACA and all of that. So it was very, very fueled with that sense of look at what’s happening in this world. And what are we saying about ourselves as a society in this time? And why are we still having to go through these things of discrimination and such great polarization? What brings us back around to that? So that production, really, I think, even in a way that we didn’t even expect, I don’t know that the Public Theater, you know, Laurie, Shaina, I don’t know that they fully expected it to be as prescient as it was. So it was quite extraordinary. 

Morag: What struck me about all of these clips of you is the joy with which you speak about the Public Theater, and the joy with which you perform Shakespeare. It was really remarkable watching all of those clips and seeing the community come together. Personally, I grew up in New York City, and my first memories and most of my memories of Shakespeare productions have been sitting on line for tickets at the New York Public Theater and seeing productions that didn’t feel so removed from me. And so I would love if you could talk more about what is it about acting, perhaps Shakespeare more specifically, or acting in general that brings you joy? And how do you convey that to your audience?

de Haas: Well, for me, personally, it is a joy for me to be able to do what I always dreamed of doing. I still find great joy as an actor and as a singer. And particularly at this time in my life, where I’m really trying to be even more specific about the things that I do and that I pursue and how I create, and how I give my most authentic self back to the world, that is really a blessing for me. I’m very, very fortunate to have in these 35, 36 years that I’ve been a professional actor and singer, I’ve been able to do what I do. 

With Public Works’, I mean, it was like, that was a cast of what, a hundred people? I mean, because I was concurrently working on another production during the early stages of rehearsal for “As You Like It,” I would come to rehearsal tired. I was very tired doing the double duty and whatnot. And you come into rehearsal, and everyone is so lovely and greeting you and everything, but it’s a lot of people. And so, you also had to kind of check yourself and kind of go, “Okay, where am I at? And how can I bring my best self, even when I’m not my best self?” And I mean, and that’s also the case for you know, performing live theater. Doing eight shows a week is no joke, you have to live like a monk. But I think there’s such great honor in being an actor. 

My other thing really as of late because of my advocacy, as well, and working with the organization, specifically that work with Black Theatre United, comprised of all these wonderful artists and stage managers and technicians, is trying to really make a industry expand in a way that is more inclusive, is more awake, is more kind, is more aware, is more accountable. And so it’s a pretty heavy time. It’s a pretty heavy load. 

Morag: How do you balance that responsibility as an artist, and all of your work with Black Theatre United and doing all of this very important, but at times difficult work with just maintaining yourself and maintaining your joy? How do you balance that? Is there a way, just a good tip?

de Haas: No, I don’t know that there really is a balance. I mean, yes, we do try to find balance in terms of our personal lives and what we need to do to maintain ourselves, and maintain our homes, maintain our bodies, and be with our families and taking care of everything. And then on top of that, when you are doing advocacy work, and being an artist, it’s a lot. And I don’t mind saying, even to my embarrassment, that I don’t know that I’m always the greatest example of how one balances everything, because sometimes I’m just exhausted or stressed out or… I think one has to cultivate as best as they can a sense of self care. Because I do believe if you can’t nurture yourself and nurture your body, then you’re not going to be any good to anyone else. You can run yourself into the ground. Different people’s abilities vary, there’s some people who can juggle so many different things, and they’re tireless about it. I, when I was a little younger, I felt I had a better ability to juggle things, and I juggle a lot of things now. What I’ve had to look at, in my own personal life, is how well I organize things. I have to organize my schedules, or else I just wouldn’t be able to do everything that I’m doing. And also being able to ask for help, which is a big thing for me because, trying to be Superman and whatnot. 

What I’m also discovering, I’ve been talking about community and everything, also know when to ask for help. That’s how BTU came about, you know. People were saying look, I’m upset about this seemingly, well, it wasn’t even seemingly, this very non response thing from our theater community to the murder of George Floyd. And this is a seminal moment. Again, among the many seminal moments that we’ve had through our history, where we’re at this again, going, why does this continue to happen? Why are we still struggling with this? And so my colleagues reached out to their different friends and I was very honored and grateful to be one of those friends that they reached out to. And so, I continue to try to work on how best I can bring the best of who I am to this work. 

Morag: Thank you so much for speaking with me today. This is such a valuable addition to this project that we’re working on, the Black Shakespearean Database, and I’m really looking forward to sharing this interview with academics and other theater makers.

Scroll to Top