VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – Back in the 1990s, I met a teenager in the Park Place section of Norfolk who said ‘ Ms. Regina, one day, I am going to be a star on Broadway.’ His name is Deon Ridley and he made it to the Great White Way and beyond.
Thirty years later, he’s back in Hampton Roads spreading his Broadway magic to the next generation stars from the 757.
The 43-year-old Ridley learned to love the performing arts as an ambassador in Margie Day Walker’s Centerstage program. Later he connected with Connie Hindmarsh of Norfolk’s Performing Arts Repertory, the Governor’s School of the Arts and Busch Gardens in Williamsburg.
Those stages delivered him straight to Broadway, where he spent 30 years on some of the biggest stages around the world. Ridley has performed in Damn Yankees, Fame, Cats, Lion King and more. In 2003, he served as the leading dancer and dance caption for Celine Dion in Las Vegas.
“After being on Broadway, after dancing with Michael Jackson and Celine Dion and doing all these amazing jobs, I’m back right where I was when I was 8 or nine years old at Centerstage Children’s Theater,” Ridley said.
Ridley is still active on Broadway, but he has choreography gigs all over the country, including a recent stop at Cape Henry Collegiate for its spring production of the award-winning Broadway show Pippen.
“I’m here at Cape Henry Collegiate working with the youth, and it’s exactly what I had when I was a child,” Ridley said.
He’s sharing with Pippen cast members the same techniques he learned decades ago in the 757.
Marisol Chesla, a junior at Cape Henry Collegiate, has the role of Fastrata in Pippen.
“I got to have a whole private lesson with Deon,” said Chesla, who aspires to perform on Broadway. “He gave me some amazing corrections and stuff that I can work on. … I will probably remember [this lesson] when I’m auditioning for colleges and auditioning for shows and even when I’m on stage. I’ll remember everything that he has told me.”
Lucas Samuel, who has his sights on the music industry, has the role of Pippen.
“I’ve learned a lot about dance, which has been my weakness,” said Samuel.
After fine-tuning critical dance scenes, Ridley paused to offer a step-by-step lesson for children in his hometown who want to sing, act and dance on Broadway and beyond.
Regina Mobley: Seriously, do you think a kid from Park Place can do this?
Deon Ridley: Absolutely. If you are from Park Place or if you are from any underprivileged or low-income community, like I was, you can do it. You can absolutely do it; all it takes is determination.
Ridley encourages parents and their children to explore programs such as chorus and drama in local high schools, The Governor’s School for the Arts – any venue where he said people are unified in love and art.