Sole Jamaica-born actor talks role in ‘The Harder They Come’ musical
Andrew Clarke takes on Broadway
There was no pre-requisite that a Jamaican-born actor had to be cast in the musical, The Harder They Come, moreover, actor Andrew Clarke wasn’t looking to be handed an olive branch.
The sole Jamaica-born actor confirmed to play in the off-Broadway production as ‘Lyle’, assistant to the pastor in the film made popular by reggae superstar Jimmy Cliff, will also double as a rude boy.
“You really had to be up to the task, because the cast is made up of Tony-nominated actors,” Clarke told The Sunday Gleaner from his home in New York City, USA, giving an insight into the fact the producers and directors were thinking high-calibre performances.
“You haffi be able to sing and act dem role yah,” he quipped going deep into the Jamaican dialect.
The Montegonian bred, Cornwall College alum, could hardly hide the fact he felt overjoyed and privileged to be a part of the cast, and was quick to point out that this was his first major commercial work in the United States since moving there in the early 2000s.
But Clarke is not new to the making of the musical, in fact, he has been there since the development process. “I’ve been with the project since some private readings, going as far back as 2018. And I’ve been in every single one of those readings. I’m the only member of the cast now that was a part of all of those readings,” he stated, the pride evidenced in his voice.
Clarke, who admits to being a huge Jimmy Cliff fan, has seen the changes made to the show, including the lead ‘Ivan’, which is being played now by the talented British-born actor Natey Jones, and he has also seen the script morph into something totally different from what was presented in 2018.
“I am just honoured and humbled just being a part of that process, seeing how the work has shifted and grown and they have not left me out. It’s like I am living out my dream. This is my crowning glory,” he declared.
The Harder They Come musical runs from February 16 until March 28, at the Newman Theatre in lower Manhattan.
“If mi never inna dis mi nuh know how mi would a manage, because this is the point that I am at in my career. I wouldn’t want to make my debut in any other production,” the actor, singer, dancer, director and producer, said.
Born in Salt Spring, St James, Clarke lived with his father, who boarded him out with his principal, Reverend Pearl Davis, while his late mother sought greener pastures in America.
It was during his tenure at Cornwall College that his skills in the performing arts were honed. He later went on to Edna Manley School of the Visual and Performing Arts to enhance his skills.
“It was never about academics for me, although I was academically inclined, and was a bright boy who always wanted to be the entertainer,” he shared.
At Cornwall there was the speech, drama and music clubs, and teachers, such as Mrs. Crooks Campbell, who is now the national director for music for Jamaica Cultural Development Commission was like a mentor for him. Under her tutelage he went on to win several gold medals, while his drama teacher, Linton Atkinson, who showcase his prowess in plays which he also won awards for.
At age 18, when he graduated Cornwall College he share the spotlight on stage with the likes of Actor Boy awardee Lloyd B Smith; actress Karen Harriott; and poet Makeda Salomon; in Basil Dawkins’ Forbidden.
“This bright-eyed bushy tailed boy out of high school inna big play,” he quipped.
By 2001, he was bitten by the theatre bug, and has been doing professional theatre for the better part of 20 years. He did quite a bit of production through the Montego Bay Little Theatre Fairfield movement under director Douglas Prout.
He later migrated to Miami, but there was no theatre life there he declared, “So I packed my bags and moved to New York City I realised, there was a lack of representation for Caribbean actors, and it was hard to get on Broadway if one was not part of the Union.”
He revealled that sometimes actors stand in line for auditions from as early as 5 a.m. and at 5 p.m. they have still not been seen, “because it is a cattle call. It has not been the road paved in gold for me”.
Clarke shared that he founded Braata Productions in New York City, 10 years ago, out of the need to offer authentic Caribbean and Jamaican productions that tell stories, while showcasing the region’s rich culture.
He has since done the musical Welcome to America, A Man IQ, the award-winning Trinidadian musical Flambeaux, and he also did tours of Xstacy in London.
He has been given additional responsibility in The Harder They Come as well, to ensure that in a small way he can ensure the accent is not butchered.
The show is being produced by the Public Theater and was written by Suzan Lorie Parks, arguably one of American theatre’s most prolific and accomplished writers.
Clarke shared that three days before closing of ticket sales, only 10 seats were available. “If you go on the Website now, you would be hard pressed to find tickets, the tickets from February are sold out and the beginning of March I want to say as well are sold out. The day after opening night is sold out there very few tickets left.”