For many African-American musicians, performing on the legendary Apollo stage is a rite of passage. The Apollo Theatre is where jazz artist Ella Fitzgerald made her debut at 17, and performers like James Brown, Patti Labelle, and Destiny’s Child launched their careers.
Aside from the many performers who have come through the Apollo doors, there is another unique aspect of the theater, a role that spans some 70 years: that comedic tap dancer who swiftly usher scorned amateur performers off the stage named Howard Sims. Better known as the “Sandman,â€ Sims held the position for 17 years. Having been booed off the Apollo stage at least 10 times himself, Sims definitely knew how to console and encourage losing contestants. But in 2000 new, comedic dancer and impressionist C.P. Lacey hit the Apollo stage as “The Executionerâ€ and took things to a whole new level.
BlackEnterprise.com spoke with the “man of a thousand disguisesâ€ about the evolution of his role at the Apollo, a position he’s held for over a decade. C.P. shares his advice for those pursuing careers in showbiz and what a typical day is like for him. (And believe us, it will make you tired yet inspired!
How did you get to the Apollo stage? What has been your journey?
I won seven times on Amateur Night performing my James Brown impersonation. I also won as a Michael Jackson impersonator years earlier. Amateur Night creator and M.C. host, Ralph Cooper Sr. saw my fancy footwork and asked me if I’d like to stand in for Howard “Sandman” Sims who was in L.A. filming a movie at the time. Mr. Cooper was so impressed with my dancing, he offered me the position full time. The journey has been worth all of the competing I did on the Apollo’s Amateur night stage.
What role have you played in the evolution of your career at the Apollo?
Within two weeks of my accepting the job offer and replacing “Sandmanâ€ Sims, I came up with the name “The Executionerâ€ to distinguish myself from my predecessor. I also modified the character’s outfits. I transformed The Executioner in such a way that he represents multiple characters, allowing me to introduce some of my zany original comical characters which are seen on the Apollo Live television show, like “Judge Booey,â€ “Norman the Nerd,â€ “Dr. Killjoy,” and “Billy the Cub Scout.â€
Unlike my predecessors, for the live (non-televised) show that is frequented mostly by tourists on Wednesday nights, audience members get to see me perform a dance routine in suit & tie as part of the opening number for the show, and they also see me as The Executioner impersonating an Apollo legend when ridding booed contestants from the stage, such as Sammy Davis Jr., Michael Jackson or James Brown. Each month at the Apollo, I also do a specially featured celebrity tribute performance, with singing and dancing included. It’s always interesting to see how the audience responds when they find out that “Stevie Wonderâ€ is really CP Lacey, The Executioner, an official in-house celebrity tribute artist for the Apollo.
What are the perks of being the legendary “Executionerâ€?
One of the main perks is I don’t have to spend a dime on advertising my stage performance workshops. People realize that after 20 years of performing at the Apollo and abroad as a stage performer, I have seen the good, bad, and the exceptional, and I have much to offer when it comes to grooming artists for a live performance and how to win an audience over—even the toughest audience on the planet, the Apollo audience. Free tap shoes and costumes could easily be a perk for me as the Executioner, but I’ve never contacted any companies for shoes or costumes simply because I love the four pairs that have been serving me so well for the past 15 years. Now that shoe retailers may be reading this article, I wear a size 10 and a half. No low end shoes please. (Laughs)