‘Harder They Come’ musical premiers milestone 50th anniversary

Alysha Morgan and Andrew Clarke
Alysha Morgan and Andrew Clarke (center) in rehearsal for the world premiere musical “The Harder They Come,” with book by Suzan-Lori Parks, songs by Jimmy Cliff, co-direction by Sergio Trujillo, and direction by Tony Taccone, beginning performances at The Public Theater on Feb. 16.
Photo courtesy publictheater.org/Joan Marcus

A 50th anniversary musical version of “The Harder They Come” has made its way to an Off-Broadway stage.

Previously presented in various forms in Kingston, Jamaica, London, England, Toronto, Canada and Miami, Florida, the dramatic screenplay written by Jamaicans Perry Henzell and Trevor Rhone recently made its world premiere at the Public Theater and will run thru March 26.

Reimagined and interpreted by Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks, the live stage version follows the 1972 storyline, which featured an all-Jamaican cast and introduced reggae singer Jimmy Cliff as an actor.

Allegedly Cliff’s rebel role as Ivanhoe Martin portrayed a real-life renegade named Rhygin.

His screen debut established his global reach, launched the genre and exposed some of the fallacies surrounding the recording industry.

From start to finish, the film reveals compelling details about disfranchised citizens and their naïve perceptions of living in a socially dysfunctional society.

When a country bumpkin eyed aspirations of abandoning his humble lifestyle to migrate to the city of Kingston where he believes as a singer he is able to pursue a profitable career more than underhanded double dealings, seedy activities and exploitative activities are exposed.

Instead of a clear path to entertainment, Ivan encounters deception, corruption and betrayal.

Featuring some of the country’s most recognizable names — actor Carl Bradshaw, singers Alton Ellis and Prince Buster, radio personalities Adrian Robinson, Don Topping and Beverly Anderson, producer Leslie Kong, actor Volier Johnson, comedian Ed ‘Bim’ Lewis and others – the relatable tale reaped high yields at the box-office.

Along with delivering a winning showcase for local talent, the screenplay scored international acclaim from audiences who considered the soundtrack the first most alluring of the genre.

The breakthrough release included up-tempo, mid-tempo, ballads and infectious beats composed and sung by Cliff. A compilation also featured collaborations with Desmond Dekker, Toots & The Maytals, Derrick Harriott and The Melodians.

Some of the hits included: “You Can Get It if You Really Want” performed by Jimmy Cliff. “Hold Your Brakes” by Scotty (composed by Derrick Harriot and D. Scott) “Pressure Drop” Toots & The Maytals (composed by Frederick “Toots” Hibbert) “Many Rivers to Cross” by Jimmy Cliff, “Johnny Too Bad” performed by The Slickers (composed by D. Crooks, R. Beckford, W. Bailey, T. Wilson) “007 Shanty Town” by Desmond Dekker (composed by D. Dares) “Sweet and Dandy” by The Maytals (composed by Frederick “Toots” Hibbert) “The Harder They Come” by Jimmy Cliff “Rivers of Babylon” by The Melodians (composed by B. Dowe) “Sitting Here in Limbo” by Jimmy Cliff.

Parks’ discography will likely add new tracks.

Her ensemble stars gifted thespians to include: Natey Jones who is making his American debut in the role Cliff portrayed, and features BRAATA Productions’ founder Andrew Clarke (Lyle) Dominique Johnson (Jose) Dudney Joseph Jr. (Ray) Jacob Ming-Trent (Pedro) Ken Robinson (Hilton) as well as a stellar chorus of singers/actors/dancers.

In addition, Tony Taccone and Tony-award winner Sergio Trujillo are tasked with direction. Trujillo is also responsible for orchestral arrangement and musical supervision.

Kenny Seymour is the music supervisor and Edgar Godineaux, choreography.

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