rolan-bell_web.jpgI was raised mainly by my mother, an American. So I've never really tried to tap into my father's Jamaican roots.

My sister Karen, however, has always been fascinated with Jamaican culture, submerging herself in it as much as possible. Her all-time favorite film is The Harder They Come, about a country Jamaican's arrival in the city of Kingston to become a musician.

He ends up selling marijuana to make money and gets caught up in a revolutionary battle with the local law enforcement.

Even though the DVD of the film has been in my house for years, I finally watched it a few weeks ago to prepare for the musical. Perry Henzell, who wrote the musical and the film, decided to take a different approach with the musical than he did with the film.

The musical begins with Ivan's Ni-Night (the last night of a nine-night celebration of life after a loved one has died.)

From there, the musical recounts Ivan's arrival to Jamaica, his short music career, and the events leading to his death.

The way the musical plays out, if you haven't seen the film, you may be lost watching the musical. Thankfully, I saw the film, too.

Henzell's approach to the musical is quite good. He filled in some of the holes in the plot of the film. He adapted the film to be stage friendly. And he added more killer songs. 

The directors are phenomenal, too. I love directors Dawn Reid's and Kerry Michael's approach, which allows the actors, in full costume, to mingle with the audience before the show. I also love the intermission, referred to in the musical as "a fifteen-minute ganja break," in which the actors sit and watch a film that the audience can enjoy as well.

On to the actors: Rolan Bell, who plays Ivanhoe Martin, has been getting rave reviews all over the world for his performance. As much as I like to set myself apart from all of the rest, I, too, am giving Bell a rave review. He is my favorite of all of the actors in the play. I especially love the way he dances. I was mesmerized.

My second favorite actor is Susan Lawson-Reynolds. She plays Pinky with such pizzazz that I actually wanted Ivan to leave Elsa (played by Joanna Francis) for her. I love her outfit and her over-the-top personality; it is just enough.

Francis, on the other hand, channels Elsa the same way Janet Bartley does in the film; like a wet blanket. Because Francis is performing on a stage, she could have done so much more with the character.

I would also like to mention Victor Romero Evans, who plays Preacher. In the film, Preacher is a sleazy pastor. In the musical, Evans makes Preacher into an in-your-face, uppity clown, which sounds bad. But Evans is very funny, and I love his version of Preacher.

I would love to write a paragraph about all of the 16-member cast and the six-member live band that accompanies the show. But this paper only has so much room. So, here's the abridged version: Lain Gray as Pedro is made up too old for my taste, and should have been able to showcase his youthfulness. Joy Mack as Miss Daisy is quite spunky, and breathes more life into the character. Marcus Powell as Hilton is not old enough, but carries the part to the best of his ability.

Chris Tummings as Ray Pierre is funny as well, especially when he yells at the audience to snitch on Ivan. Zalika King as Precious, one of Pinky's hangers-on, is great. Delroy Atkinson as Longa and Numero Uno has great comedic timing.

Cavin Cornwall as Sergeant is the perfect sidekick to Ray; only I like Sarge more than I do Ray. Derek Elroy makes Jose into a likable character. Kirk Patterson makes quite a limber, mobile and funny photographer. Jacqui Dubois as Miss Brown is decent. Matthew Newton as a singer is decent. And, Simone Richards as Pearl, Pinky's other hanger-on, is engaging.

I would also like to mention the live band, also known as The Hilton All Stars: Perry Melius (co-musical director and drummer), Wayne Nunes (co-musical director and bass guitar), Darren Benjamin (keyboard and bass guitar), Adrian McKenzie (keyboard), Alan Weekes (guitar), and Peter Lee (guitar).

I thoroughly enjoyed myself during The Harder They Come musical. Of course, my sister did, also. If you like excellent music, excellent crowd interaction and an excellent show, then do hurry to get your ticket for The Harder They Come. It will only be in Miami (and the United States) until Sept. 13th, and you don't want to miss this.

Photo by Khary Bruyning. Rolan Bell


WHAT: The Harder They Come musical

WHEN: Aug. 29 through Sept. 13, 2009, Thursdays through Sundays at various times. For show times, log on to the Adrienne Arsht Center website listed below.

WHERE: Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, 1300 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami

COST: $50

CONTACT: 305-949-6722 /