An imposing African-American character player with a strong singing voice, Derricks first made his mark on the Broadway and off-Broadway stages in a series of soul, gospel and blues-flavored musical dramas and revues before trying his hand briefly at features and later as a cast regular on series TV. He studied voice in college and began pursuing a career writing gospel music, but seeing his twin brother Clinton performing onstage steered him toward acting. At the proverbial eleventh hour of desperation, Derricks won a chance to audition for a 1977 Broadway revival of "Hair" when another commitment made his brother unavailable. He won the role and followed up with "But Never Jam Today" (1977), playing four different roles in this funky "Alice in Wonderland" and also providing choral arrangements; "Your Arms Too Short to Box with God" (1980), "Big "Dreamgirls" (1982), where his flashy, exciting work as James Thunder Early won him a supporting Tony; and Bob Fosse's "Big Deal" (1986), which provided him with his first real leading role.
Derricks made his feature debut in a small role in "Fort Apache, The Bronx" (1981) but won his first kudos with his meaty role in "Moscow on the Hudson" (1984), as a security guard who befriends Russian emigre Robin Williams. His next two features were less well-received on the whole, but Derricks won favorable notices as one of Michael O'Keefe's baseball colleagues in "The Slugger's Wife" (1985) and almost the only praise that the notably unfunny comedy "Off Beat" (1986) garnered.
Derricks subsequently left features and has dedicated most of his energies over the past decade to TV work. After acting in a number of comedy and drama pilots he won his first series role in "Good Sports" (CBS, 1991), as part of the sport newsroom team headed by Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O'Neal. He followed up as one of the handful of post-apocalyptic survivors in the outlandish "Woops!" (Fox, 1992) and as the party and sports-loving Uncle Charles on "Thea" (ABC, 1993-94). Derricks did his professional best by these short-lived series, and enjoyed at least some measure of better luck with his first show to be renewed for a second season, "Sliders" (Fox, 1995-97; Sci-Fi Channel 1998-2000). A mid-season replacement hoping to cash in on the popular trend for sci-fi sparked by "The X-Files" and various "Star Trek" series, "Sliders" featured Derricks as Rembrandt 'Crying Man' Brown, part of an R&B singing group, who accidentally gets caught up in a time-traveling vortex each week.
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Career breakthrough when his brother Clinton was unable to fulfill a commitment to perform in a Broadway revival of "Hair"; his brother suggested Cleavant, who flew to New York, auditioned and got the part of Hud
First TV-movie, "Cindy"
Did choral arrangements and handled vocal preparation for the stage musical, "But Never Jam Today" (based on "Alice in Wonderland"), in which he also played the roles of Caterpiller, Cook, Tweedledee and the Seven of Spades
Feature film debut, "Fort Apache, The Bronx"
Enjoyed notable Broadway success in the musical revue, "Dreamgirls", for which he also did vocal arrangements; won Tony Award as Best Featured Actor in a Musical
First prominent supporting role in features, "Moscow on the Hudson"
First TV role as series regular, "Good Sports"; played role of Jeff Mussberger
Played Dr. Frederick Ross on the Fox TV sitcom, "Woops!"
Played Charles on the ABC comedy series, "Thea"