‘The Harder They Come’ musical to premiere in NY
Jimmy Cliff reminisces; wishes Grammy nominees well
Award-winning ska, rocksteady, reggae, multi instrumentalist, and actor, Jimmy Cliff, fondly recalled his burst of enthusiasm at the finale of the musical for The Harder They Come, which premiered in London’s West End years ago.
“I attended and I actually jumped on the stage when they did the finale,” Cliff told The Sunday Gleaner by telephone from his home in Europe.
On the 50th anniversary of the iconic Jamaican movie, the film is being adapted for the stage in New York and will premiere at the Public Theater in New York, from February 16 to March 26. The Harder They Come was produced and directed by Perry Henzell and co-written with Trevor Rhone.
A release from the producers noted that “fifty years after the film premiered in New York City, the musical features a book and additional new songs by Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks, songs by legendary musician Jimmy Cliff, music supervision, orchestrations, and arrangements by Kenny Seymour, choreography by Edgar Godineaux, co-direction by Tony Award winner Sergio Trujillo, and direction by Tony Award nominee Tony Taccone.”
The original film The Harder They Come tells the story of Ivan — played by Cliff — a young singer who arrives in Kingston, from the country, eager to become a star. After falling in love and cutting a record deal with a powerful music mogul, Ivan soon learns that the game is rigged, and as he becomes increasingly defiant, he finds himself in a battle that threatens not only his life, but the very fabric of Jamaican society.
Actor Natey Jones ( Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical) will make his American stage debut as Ivan. He will be joined by J. Bernard Calloway (who plays the Preacher), plus ensemble members Sir Brock Warren and Christopher Henry Young and understudies Tyla Collier, Tiffany Francès, Garfield Hammonds, Denver Andre Taylor, and Carla Woods. Music supervision, orchestration, and arrangements are being handled by Kenny Seymour, while Tony Taccone directs the musical, with co-direction by Tony Award winner Sergio Trujillo ( Jersey Boys, On Your Feet!, The Temptations) and choreography by Edgar Godineaux.
New York-based actor Andrew Clarke, who lists I Can See Clearly as his favourite song from the soundtrack, will play Lyle, the preacher’s assistant, as well as Packer, a gang member.
“I am honoured being a Jamaica-born actor to be making my Off-Broadway debut in The Harder They Come,” said Clake.”It is very rare that a Jamaican story gets told in American mainstream theatres. It is even more special because my life’s work in New York has been about celebrating Jamaican culture and heritage, so this production fits right into that ethos!”
Clarke confessed that he has never met Cliff in person but remains optimistic that it will happen.
“I hope with this project, that will change,” he noted.
Cliff may not be at this premiere, but his enthusiasm for the new musical is infectious. Bringing things closer home, the Grammy Award-winning artiste was quizzed about which of the five nominees, Sean Paul, Shaggy, Protoje, Kabaka Pyramid or Koffee, would win the Grammy in the Reggae category at tonight’s ceremony in Los Angeles.
“I could not say who has the best chance ... . I will say, may the best person win,” Cliff said,
ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME
In 2010, New York rolled out the red carpet for Cliff when he was inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. Haitian born hip-hop star Wyclef Jean made the presentation. The event was beamed live to millions of viewers on FUSE television. The then 61-year-old Cliff, donned a Jamaican flag scarf and a silver jacket at the event, performed three songs from his catalogue, including The Harder They Come, You Can get it if You Really Want and Ma ny Rivers to Cross. He participated in a media junket two days later and made an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman.
Retired NY photojournalist Roland Hyde attended Cliff’s induction at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame event.
“David Letterman of CBS Late Show was in attendance at the Rock & Roll event and he was enamoured by Jimmy’s performance” Hyde told The Gleaner.
“I was a photojournalist for The Gleaner at the time and met Jimmy and his wife at the event. Jimmy gave me his contact. The following night when Letterman did his show on CBS, he announced that he really wanted to interview Jimmy. I saw the broadcast and immediately informed Jimmy. My call prompted his handlers to contact Letterman’s producers, and the interview took place, which was a very big deal for Jimmy and reggae. It was fantastic!” he recalled.
EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this story stated that The Harder They Come is celebrating its 51st anniversary. The Harder They Come is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Also, the musical, which opens at The Public's Newman Theater in New York on February 16 will be shown until March 26, not February 16-26, as previously stated. We regret the error.