Jimmy Cliff, a multi-instrumentalist, award-winning performer of ska, rocksteady, and reggae music as well as an actor, remembers lovingly his outburst of elation after the show’s finale when it first debuted in the West End of London years ago.
Cliff told The Sunday Gleaner over the phone from his residence in Europe, “I attended and I actually jumped on the stage when they did the finale.”
The legendary Jamaican movie is being adapted for the stage in New York for its 50th anniversary, and it will make its theatrical debut at the Public Theater in New York from February 16 to March 26. Perry Henzell co-wrote the script for The Harder They Come with Trevor Rhone, and he also produced and directed the film.
“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,” according to a statement from the producers.
Ivan, a teenage singer played by Cliff in the original The Harder They Come, travels from the country to Kingston hoping to make it big as a singer. Ivan finds himself in a conflict that endangers not just his life but also the foundation of Jamaican society after falling in love and signing a record deal with a prominent music producer. As he grows more defiant, Ivan discovers that the game is rigged.
In the role of Ivan, actor Natey Jones (Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical) will make his theatrical debut in America. He will be accompanied by actors J. Bernard Calloway (who portrays the Preacher), Sir Brock Warren, Christopher Henry Young, and Carla Woods as well as Tyla Collier, Tiffany Francès, Garfield Hammonds, Denver Andre Taylor, and understudies Tyla Collier, Tiffany Francès, and Carla Woods from the ensemble. The musical is being directed by Tony Taccone, with co-direction by Tony Award winner Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys, On Your Feet!, The Temptations), orchestration by Kenny Seymour, and choreography by Edgar Godineaux. Kenny Seymour is in charge of the music supervision, orchestration, and arrangements.
Actor Andrew Clarke, who resides in New York, will portray both Packer, a member of a gang, and Lyle, the preacher’s helper. His favorite song from the album is I Can See Clearly.
As a Jamaican actor making his Off-Broadway debut in The Harder They Come, Clake expressed his honor.
”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 remarked.
Although Clarke acknowledged that he has never met Cliff in person, he is still hopeful that it will.
“I hope with this project, that will change,” he said.
Even though Cliff isn’t there for this premiere, his enthusiasm for the new musical is contagious. The Grammy Award-winning performer was asked who she thought will win the Reggae category Grammy at tonight’s gala in Los Angeles: Sean Paul, Shaggy, Protoje, Kabaka Pyramid, or Koffee.
“I could not say who has the best chance … I will say, may the best person win,” Cliff stated.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame honored Cliff in 2010 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, and the city put out the red carpet for him. Hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean a member of the former Hip-hop group called the Fugees, who was born in Haiti, gave the presentation. Millions of people watched the event live on FUSE television. The Harder They Come, You Can Get It If You Really Want, and Many Rivers to Cross were among the three songs Cliff, who was 61 at the time, played at the occasion while sporting a Jamaican flag scarf and a silver jacket. Two days later, he took part in a press junket and appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman.
Cliff’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was seen by retired New York photojournalist Roland Hyde.
“David Letterman of CBS Late Show was in attendance at the Rock & Roll event and he was enamored by Jimmy’s performance,” according to Hyde, who spoke to The Gleaner.
He stated, “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!”