Jamerican actress Sheryl Lee Ralph believes in the message and music of a new off-Broadway musical.
Her name was added with producer credits along with her D.I.V.A (Divinely Inspired Victoriously AIDS Aware) Foundation to promote the show already winning critical acclaim with audiences.
Booked for a limited run at Theatre at St. Clement’s, “Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical,” the enlightening story written and portrayed by Anthony Wayne delivers a winning biography of a star American club goers loved and lost much too soon.
Wayne penned a memoir about the androgynous singer popularly known by his one-name identifier and with collaboration from Kendrell Bowman is directing the revealing musical about the life of Sylvester James Jr.
Born Sept. 6, 1947, Sylvester reinvented himself to become Miss Blue.
He knew he had a mission to conquer.
His role it appears was to inspire others to live in their own skin, face adversities and like the U.S. Army recruiting mantra endorses — “be all you can be.”
The tribute and open book presentation details in lights — a compelling biographical song and dance production.
The storyline jibes with the mission of Ralph’s organization which was created in 1990 to generate resources, coordinate artistic activities by creating awareness about HIV/AIDS.
Utilizing ‘music and entertainment as a vehicle to; inform, educate and erase the stigma attached to the deadly disease,’ for 24 years Ralph and her foundation annually highlights the victories and successes claimed despite adversities.
Sylvester is renowned for his bombastic, baritone disco renditions. He was singer, songwriter and producer of hits that clubs craved to get dancers on the floor.
He was often seen with the elite of the entertainment industry. Cher, Lou Rawls, Phyllis Hyman and others were among his galaxy. But like actors Rock Hudson, Liberace, Robert Reed, Anthony Perkins, biochemist Isaac Asimov, record producer Freddy Mercury, tennis athlete Arthur Ashe, songwriter Peter Allen, rapper Eazy-E and so many other celebrated names — Sylvester became the face of destruction from AIDS.
He was a pioneer in the LGBTQ community for showing, unapologetically, that he was true to his identity.
The California boy wonder dressed to impress, sang his heart out and was dubbed the “Queen of Disco.”
Fact is that the remnants of the era are often determined by disco balls, Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor and The Tramps. But truth be told, the only male to truly represent the era might undeniably brand Sylvester as the most authentic, unforgettable owner of the legacy.
Influenced by female blues and jazz singers the likes of Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker, Sylvester became the Queen of Disco.
From youth to his tragic swansong on Dec. 16, 1988, Sylvester fulfilled his purpose.
As a young boy he stared straight into a mirror and according to the script the reflection he saw was “fabulosity.”
For a time, the boy in the mirror seemed sufficient, however as he got older he realized others saw a totally different image and one that did not appear normal or real to mainstream society.
Born in Watts, LA, Sylvester developed a love of singing through the gospel choirs of his Pentecostal church. It was that same religious disdain about his homosexuality that forced him to migrate north. He felt persecuted and totally rejected for living in his own skin.
Gradually, Sylvester realized that the world he was raised was too small to sustain his yearnings. Eventually he left his loving mother and family to move from Los Angeles to San Francisco where he launched a career that flourished.
One of the standout friendships he nurtured there was with two female singers — Izora Armstead and Martha Wash. With his guidance, the two women became as indelible in the minds of music lovers as he had imprinted.
Perhaps, better known in recording circles as Two Tons of Fun, they scored a winner with the hit song written by musician Paul Shaffer titled “It’s Raining Men.”
History reveals and Wayne’s words echo that Sylvester, the meteoric performer, mentored the women to be recognized by a record label. Once signed, they needed umbrellas to ward off showers of success precipitated from Shaffer’s composition.
Anastacia McCleskey and Jacqueline B. Arnold, the women to portray the pair are equally talented however, it is the character-creating Wayne that captures the essence of the era, the issues, complexities and mood experienced by the Watts-born, fashionista, songwriter, singer and trendsetter.
Wayne in a show-stopping role recaptures the flamboyance, style and musical charm that endeared audiences to his performances. Although memory might demand a heavy-weight singer to portray the star, Wayne’s slimming characterization erases that nostalgia to focus on the individual who lived life to the fullest and apparently at the end had few regrets.
Reputed to have released more than a dozen albums, Sylvester comes to life nightly at the Theatre at St. Clement’s.
Wayne is wonderful as Sylvester and by the time he belts “Dance” and “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” the nostalgia relives the hey-days of Disco.
The tribute reprises Otis Redding’s “Respect,” Nick & Val’s “Over & Over,” Patti LaBelle’s “You Are My Friend” and Sylvester’ own “Down, Down, Down” composition.
Tina Turner’s rocking “Proud Mary,” the soulful “Ain’t No Way,” and Sylvester’s “Do You Wanna Funk” provides a few more reasons to check out this gifted star performance by a comet on the rise. The band delivers a stellar repertoire – funky, classic and true to the music of the 70s.
Deanne Stewart and Rahmel McDade, the backup singers with Arnold and McCleskey compliment the quad that rocks, rolls and disco with funk, the best Off-Broadway deal to date.
The entertaining production will leave audiences standing, clapping, finger-snapping and dreading the too-brief tribute to one of the best entertainers to emerge from the Disco era.
Ralph is right as rain in backing this musical. She knows how to pick the winners and this one is destined for a long run. She was an original member of the Broadway musical “Dreamgirls.” The role she portrayed earned her a Best Actress nomination for a Tony and Drama Desk Awards.
She also established a Jamerican Film Festival in Jamaica and was able to mentor young filmmakers, showcase important and classic movies as well as import prominent Hollywood actors for panel discussions.
The D.I.V.A. Foundation is a national not-for-profit, charitable organization founded as a memorial to the many friends she lost to AIDS. The actress can currently be seen on television in Showtime’s “Ray Donovan,” as well as Nickelodeon’s “Instant Mom” with Tia Mowry.
Catch You On The Inside!