By Tulis McCall

If this The Harder They Come were simply a vehicle to give superb talent a spotlight in which to shine, well, I suppose that would be enough.  And that is pretty much what it is, with just enough of a story by Suzan-Lori Parks woven throughout to shape the tale into a classic tragedy.

First of all – I never saw nor heard of the movie.  I do remember Jimmy Cliff and his music in the 1970’s.  I think I have one of his albums tucked into the stack in my closet that I fantasize I will haul out into th light one of these days.  There was, and is, an element of Cliff’s music that is soothing on the one hand, and makes you want to swing your body around on the other.  This cast gets that.

In this production Cliff’s iconic songs like “You Can Get It If You Really Want,” “I Can See Clearly,” and “Israelites” are sprinkled throughout along with some lesser knows as well as a few songs by Suzan-Lori Parks.  The production is heavy on music, and that suits the audience just fine.

As to the story, there are overlapping relationships here that pull this community together.  Ivan (Natey Jones) is a kind of prodigal son who arrives in Kingston looking for his mother Daisy (Jeannette Bayardelle).  He lived in the country with his grandmother, Daisy’s mother, and when she died he had no ties to hold him.  He arrives as an innocent and is promptly taken down a few pegs by the people who see him as an opportunity to be robbed.  Everyone turns their backs until the Preacher (J.  Bernard Calloway) and his flock welcome him.  There he meets Elsa (Meecah), the Preacher’s ward, with whom he falls in love.  The feeling is mutual and that ain’t good.

The story pretty much tumbles down, following itself into itself as Ivan pushes himself into successes and then steps on his own toes.  He is guided by his optimism and his ego.  One is hopeful, the other is defiant.  We can see the end looming, and we cannot look away.

While all the performances are spot on, I must single out Meecah whose voice gives new meaning to the phrase, “crystal clear.”  When this woman sings she sculpts the air into three-dimensional worlds and releases them into our hands.  Likewise Ms. Bayardelle who is not given enough time to share her passion and her voice with us.  These two performers are transcendent, and I will look forward to seeing and hearing them again.  Soon please.  Soon.

The entire ensemble moves with precision and grace with most of them playing more than one role.  So well crafted are the performances that you think the cast has grown in size, when it is really a small band of serious artists who are part chameleons.

So yes – if you want your spirits lifted by music and a band of mighty performers – get thee to this show.  The story may be dark but somehow you will see through it to the glory.

It is selling out fast and has been EXTENDED through APRIL 9.

The Harder They Come – Book by Suzan-Lori Parks Including Songs by Jimmy Cliff. Additional New Songs by Suzan-Lori Parks. Based upon the film by the same name, produced and directed by Perry Henzell and co-written with Trevor Rhone. Directed by Tony Taccone. Co-Directed by Sergio Trujillo.

Music Supervision, Orchestrations, and Arrangements by Kenny Seymour. Choreography by Edgar Godineaux

WITH Jeannette Bayardelle (Daisy), Shawn Bowers (Ensemble), J. Bernard Calloway (Preacher), Andrew Clarke (Lyle), Tyla Collier (Understudy), Jamal Christopher Douglas (Ensemble), Tiffany Francès (Understudy), Garfield Hammonds (Understudy), Dana Marie Ingraham (Ensemble), Dominique Johnson (Jose), Chelsea-Ann Jones (Ensemble), Natey Jones (Ivan), Dudney Joseph Jr (Ray),Dwight Xaveir Leslie (Understudy), Morgan McGhee (Ensemble), Meecah (Elsa), Jacob Ming-Trent (Pedro), Alysha Morgan (Ensemble), Ken Robinson (Hilton), Housso Semon (Ensemble), Denver Andre Taylor (Understudy), Sir Brock Warren (Ensemble), Carla Woods(Understudy), and Christopher Henry Young (Ensemble).