Derrick Parks plays Agent Cod in ‘Catch Me If You Can.’
by Donalevan Maines
His papa preached, his mama directed the choir, and Derrick Parks, who plays Agent Cod this month in Catch Me If You Can at the Hobby Center, lifted his voice to God at a church in Durham, North Carolina. “I was always singing at church,” says the out actor, who’s only a few stops into his first national tour of a Broadway musical. “I probably started when I was eight or nine years old.”
A spiritual home is still important to Parks, and he found one in the Hillsong Church of New York City. “Hillsong Church is based in Australia,” explains Parks, who now lives in Brooklyn. “Have you heard of the Hillsong Singers? I had listened to lots of their albums of inspirational music, and they touched me every time.” He learned that the ministry, founded in August 1983, has grown from a congregation of forty-five souls to become the largest church in Australia. Hillsong Church now has churches across the globe.
“My boyfriend and I attend regularly at the church in lower Manhattan. It’s such a mega-church that they have eight services every Sunday, and it’s packed every time. It’s accepting of everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. It’s not judgmental,” says Parks. It’s a much more welcoming environment than the church where his parents still reign (more about them later).
First, here’s how Parks got to Houston for the limited engagement of Broadway’s high-flying musical inspired by the astonishing true story of Frank Abagnale Jr., the world-class con artist played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the 2002 hit film. Abagnale passed himself off as a doctor, a lawyer, and a jet pilot—all before the age of 21. The show pays Parks to play make-believe as a doctor, a pilot, and an FBI agent—and he’s still in his 20s.
“I went to the Savannah College of Art and Design, and I first majored in architecture,” he explains. “I got my degree in industrial design, which completely has nothing to do with what I’m doing now.”
Parks minored in vocal performance, which led to his working a year and a half as a performer on Royal Caribbean International cruise ships that sailed around Europe and South America.
Docking in New York City, Parks landed the gig with Catch Me If You Can. It’s a jet-setting, cat-and-mouse chase, with Agent Cod and straight-arrow FBI agent Carl Hanratty on the young con artist’s trail, with a jazzy, swinging-sixties score accompanying the adventure. It’s not much of a spoiler to reveal that, in the end, the grifter and the FBI agents discover they aren’t so very different after all.
“I very much enjoy playing Agent Cod,” says Parks. “Over the course of the show, you see an arc. He goes from being a no-nonsense, power-to-the-people black guy, to scenes where the FBI agents relax, and you see he’s very goofy. His character reflects how sometimes we have to allow ourselves to have fun. He’s different from how you have to carry yourself as an FBI agent.”
Parks also performs in the ensemble for the show’s huge production numbers. “In ‘Jet Set,’ I play a pilot, courting these beautiful ladies around. Then I’m a surgeon, the only surgeon in the show, courting these beautiful nurses around,” he says. “The whole show, I’m courting beautiful ladies around.”
Before embarking on the national tour in November, the cast rehearsed for two weeks in Providence, Rhode Island. They also met Abagnale, with the reformed scammer visiting several cities on the tour for talkbacks with the audience. “He seems like such an upstanding gentleman, and he believed in paying his dues,” says Parks. “According to things he said, it wasn’t about the money so much as he was trying to find himself as a young man. When his parents split up, he didn’t know where to fit in.”
Which brings us back to Parks and his church-going parents. They hold high positions in the church where Parks worshipped as a child, so when he came out to them, “It was not as pleasant as you wanted it to be. They were not big fans, of course.” It’s been less than a year, and things have gotten better, says Parks. In the playbill, he graciously acknowledges the “exceedingly abundant love and support” of his parents and family.
Like so many works of art, most if not all of the creators of Catch Me If You Can are openly gay. The multi-TonyAward-winning creative team includes Terrence McNally (book) , Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (score), Jerry Mitchell (choreography), Jack O’Brien (direction), David Rockwell (set), William Ivey Long (costumes), Kenneth Posner (lights), and Peter McBoyle (sound).
The Houston engagement follows hot on the heels of the recent Broadway run that starred Aaon Tveit (Enjolras in the movie of Les Misérables) and Norbert Leo Butz (winning the 2011 Tony Award for best leading actor in a musical).
The New York Times critic wrote, “Hot diggity! This portrait of the con artist as a young man comes to ecstatic life.” WOR Radio called it “absolutely marvelous…a real Broadway musical with showstoppers to enthrall just about everyone.” Vanity Fair assured, “Catch Me will move you to live life to the fullest and dance past anything standing in your way,” and urges “Get your seats now!”
What: Catch Me If You Can
When: February 5–10
Where: Hobby Center, 800 Bagby
Cost: tickets start at $30
Tickets/info: 800-982-ARTS, broadwayacrossamerica.com/houston, or thehobbycenter.org.
Donalevan Maines also writes about the Oscars in this issue of OutSmart magazine.