thtc-rolan-bell_web.jpgMIAMI _ In Kingston, Jamaica, the name Perry Henzell is synonymous with the film starring reggae icon Jimmy Cliff.

The Harder They Come
is the first film produced in Jamaica that gained worldwide attention. In his lifetime, Henzell completed two films, two novels, a musical about Marcus Garvey and numerous screenplays for other producers.

His love for Jamaica was so great that he passed it on to his three children, Toni-Ann, Justine and Jason, who have passed it on to their children. Justine has picked up the baton to carry on his legacy.

“He was a very busy man, but it was wonderful that he worked from home,” said Justine Henzell, 43, of her father.  “As children, we had access to him.”

Perry Henzell passed away on Nov. 30, 2006.  By that time, he and Justine had managed to plan and carry out a musical version of The Harder They Come.

The latest version of the musical, a peek into the journey of an aspiring reggae star, will be performed at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County from Aug. 29 through Sept. 13.

The musical is based on Perry Henzell’s cult film by the same name, which helped catapult reggae music into an internationally adored genre.

The Harder They Come made music history, introducing the world, and the United States in particular, to reggae music,’’ Adrienne Arsht Center President and CEO M. John Richard said in a prepared statement.

The movie version starring Jimmy Cliff included many of the songs in the musical. It is now hitting the stage for the first time in the United States.

“The show always performs to a full house,” Justine Henzell said of the musical, which has been performed by the Theatre Royal Stratford East, a London theater company, since 2006.  “I saw people jumping up from their seats, singing, dancing, clapping, and laughing.”

Henzell continued: “The UK cast is fairly young, but their talent and energy is exceptional. When Roland Bell, who plays Ivan, dances across the stage and smiles, he lights up the entire theater.”

When director Kerry Michael approached Perry Henzell about adapting his film into a musical, he was reluctant at first.  After a lot of persuasion, he agreed and was very happy to write additional lyrics.

Since her father’s death, Justine Henzell, who is the script supervisor for the musical, has continued to ensure that the musical is performed.

A proud Jamaican who loves to carry her flag high, Justine is the mother of two children, Drew and Dylan, who are fascinated with the play and are already grooming themselves to take the reins of the family legacy.

But Perry Henzell’s legacy isn’t the only major part of Justine’s life. At a young age, her father instilled in her a sense of family and a sense of pride in Jamaica, which, she said, are the traits of any Jamaican person. Even though her children are “priority one,” Justine Henzell said she holds all of what Jamaica stands for close to her heart.

“In general, Jamaican women inspire me.  Their strength of character and determination are an inspiration to me every day,” she said when asked who inspired her other than her father.  “They are so strong and able to accomplish amazing things for their children with very limited resources.”

Many Jamaicans live a materially meager existence, but their love and pride in their country give them inspiration, which is essentially what the film, The Harder They Come, is all about.  It is what Perry Henzell was trying to convey in 1972, when the film was released.

Asked if she ever saw herself living somewhere other than Kingston, Jamaica, Justine said Jamaica is her only home, and the Internet makes it very easy for her to conduct her business.

Her father’s legacy isn’t the only thing that she keeps track of on the Internet.  She also produces the Calabash International Literary Festival with award-winning authors Colin Channer and Kwame Dawes.

In addition, she keeps up with her father’s projects, such as The Harder They Come musical. Now that the play version received great reviews in Toronto last weekend, Justine Henzell said she is excited about its Miami opening.

“When (your readers) go to see the musical, if they are Jamaican, they will be instilled with a sense of pride and joy,” Henzell told the South Florida Times about the musical.  “Those who aren’t Jamaican, will have an incredible night of thought-provoking entertainment.” 

Billed as a celebration of Jamaica and a look at its music scene in the 1970s, The Harder They Come exposed Jamaican culture to many people. 

Now, almost three years after her father’s passing, Justine Henzell is working to keep her father’s legacy going strong, and keep his wishes intact. 

For her, the purpose of the film and the musical is best summed up in her father’s words: “If you can make people laugh and cry and leave the theater dancing and singing, you’ve done a good job.”

Photo: Rolan Bell performs in The Harder They Come, which takes to the stage Aug. 29 through Sept. 13 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County.