I remember pre-COVID shutdown, interviewing Andre De Shields in his dressing room at “Hadestown” and him sharing that he wanted to do a cabaret show because he had a lot to say! I’m so happy to report that post-theater shutdown, his dream came to fruition. De Shields just completed a run from Aug. 3-7 and made his solo debut at 54 Below, where he was vocally accompanied by Kimberly Marable, Lori Tishfield and Freida Williams, with percussionist Rudy Bird and musical director Sean Mayes. The show was entitled “Black by Popular Demand: A Musical Meditation on How Not To Be Eaten by The Sphinx.” The performance started with the ladies coming out dressed to the 9’s in lovely African attire and sparkling garments, holding stunning umbrellas. They started to sing and then De Shields came in beautifully dressed with a black and white flowing robe that went to the floor, a black top hat, with a white feather, a white shirt, black bow tie and black pants. If there is one thing that we all know about Andre it is that he is superbly stylish. He made his way through the capacity crowd with someone escorting him and holding an umbrella over his head. The words to De Shields’ first song set the stage for what was to come during the show. “None of us are free if one of us is chained…We have to reach out to our people and let them know we care.”
De Shields took off the robe and the hat, and then his powerful vocal instrument and love for his people flowed. I thought to myself, “My God, I feel so blessed sitting here.” De Shields wasn’t just about vocals, he did some funky dance moves as well.
Looking at the diversified crowd, he admitted, “It’s such a healing experience for the eyes to witness a multicultural democracy here at 54 Below.” Andre advised America not to avoid crisis, but face it to understand how to deal with it. The ladies sang the words to the Constitution and De Shields stated that Jefferson’s words were for eternity. They sang “Sambala” and De Shields had a great time doing his thang! He performed “Taking It to the Streets”! Andre’s show is so personal and uplifting; it’s him sharing his heart and his concern for everyone.
As he performed a medley of songs, the audience heard “War,” “Blue Moon,” “Barbara Ann.” He and Freida had some fun with Miss Mary Mack and they did some marvelous, retro moves like the Mashed Potato, the Jerk and Kill that roach. It was a blast! This show had something for everyone! Each lady got her moment to shine, some through extraordinary solos and another through a tremendous monologue.
I have always known De Shields through these decades to be a spiritual person, an actor who is concerned about all people and this country. He is concerned about Black people loving themselves and each other and celebrating our beauty. De Shields is someone who has a depth that is palpable. He creates shows that entertain, uplift and inspire. He does shows that promote a feeling of community and celebrate diversity in his audience. And believe me when De Shields entertains it is always in front of a diverse audience. He is a pure talent who cheers for the human soul and the growth of us as people.
His show at Feinstein’s 54 Below was filled with powerful singing, fun, and moments of self-reflection. He can be blatant and subtle, managing to get his point across that we as a country must do better. He also had no problem with calling out the troublemakers among the politicians and letting the audience shout out their boos. Can you imagine who the politicians or former politicians were? I’m sure you could.
De Shields has strong opinions and even more heart, which captures his audience every time. Between him and the three Queens (as he called them) on stage, they managed to address the issues of light-skinned Black women and through a snappy, funny monologue, the issues of Black women not loving their natural hair and being willing to spend ridiculous amounts of money to transform themselves into somebody they are not.
This 75-year-old, charming, elegant, personable, gentleman has a way of grabbing your hand and taking you on a journey, and we all enjoyed that journey Saturday night. He ended the performance on a solemn note as he stood alone on stage and sang some of the final words of George Floyd as he realized he was dying. There is nothing like Andre De Shields on a stage to get the spirit lifted and refreshed!