Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Arsht Center: The Harder They Come (2 reviews)

The British adaptation of the 1972 movie The Harder They Come opened on September 29, and will play at the Arsht Center through September 12.
A hard-driving, irresistible musical celebration! Young singer Ivan Martin heads to Kingston with dreams of becoming a reggae star, but a corrupt and drug-fueled music industry drives him into a fast and furious life as Jamaica's most-wanted outlaw and most-celebrated underground star.
Dawn Reid and Kerry Michael direct a cast that includes Rolan Bell and Joanna Francis.

The Sun-Sentinel has declined to review this production.*

Brandon K. Thorp reviewed for the Miami New Times:
That The Harder They Come is now a stage musical should surprise no one. (If Abba made the grade, anything can.) What's surprising is how gritty it remains. Even at the posh Adrienne Arsht Center, the rude boy magic is rude and boyish. The music helps, as does a stripped-back set.... What sells it is a brilliant young cast, which takes the old bones of Martin's story and rattles them into something new and beautiful.
If I've heard more expressive singing in a touring musical, I can't remember it; the harmonies are strong, sure, and lovely, and the soloists deserve immediate record contracts. I'm thinking of Lain Gray, who plays Pedro, the man closest to Ivanhoe. He's blessed with an impossibly sad voice that seems to sob each time it swoops into falsetto. And I'm thinking of Joanna Francis as Ivanhoe's church-mouse girlfriend, Elsa, whose voice begins all silky-wispy and then grows higher, stronger, and steelier, climbing up and up until it's like a glittering edifice in the sky. A young woman sitting behind me in the theater described Francis's singing as "The craziest shit I've ever heard."
But most of all, I'm thinking of Rolan Bell, who plays Ivanhoe... Bell is full of such irrepressible cheer that his arrival onstage is something very much like dawn breaking... Bell's smile, naive charisma, and plain goodwill are reminiscent of Ragged Dick with a beat. He's galvanizing.
Christine Dolen reviewed for the Miami Herald:
To twist an old ad slogan, you don't have to be Jamaican to love The Harder They Come. But truth be told, in order to absorb all the cultural resonances in the stage version of Perry Henzell's famous 1972 movie, you almost have to be Jamaican.
Directors Dawn Reid and Kerry Michael keep their large cast and six fine musicians constantly onstage, as if everyone had crowded into a church hall colored Rastafarian green, yellow and red.
Onstage, that verbal and visual exposition is limited by the need to make room for songs. Watching The Harder They Come in the theater, you may wonder just why the innocent, church-going Elsa (Joanna Francis) falls so fast and so hard for Ivan. Or why Elsa winds up taking care of a motherless baby whose father, Pedro (Lain Gray), gets Ivan into the ganja trade. The shorthand storytelling can be confusing.
What is undeniable is how powerfully the cast delivers the show's music. Many of the performers have been with The Harder They Come since it was created in 2006, and that makes for a polished ensemble. Although some of the characters have become caricatures, the songs (in the words of a borrowed Jackie Wilson tune) keep lifting the show Higher and Higher. Particularly memorable are Gray's haunting version of Cliff's Many Rivers To Cross, Bell's striving You Can Get It If You Really Want and his re-creation of that star-is-born moment in the studio. It's then that The Harder They Come connects with everyone.
The Harder They Come will play at the Arsht Center through September 12.

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