Review: The Harder They Come at the Arsht Center, August 29

Categories: Concert Review
hardertheycome.jpg
photo by Mitchell Zachs
The Harder They Come
Saturday, August 29, 2009
The Ziff Ballet Opera House at Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Miami

Better Than:
Hanging with the Rude Boys at Vagabond's Stone Groove. Or just as good anyway.

The film will be familiar to just about anyone who's ever gone to the cinema, especially if they'd gone back when midnight movies were all the rage. And if by chance the film's not familiar, well, the soundtrack has gotta be -- or to least a large part of it anyway. After all, it's the second biggest selling reggae album ever. Now that there's a musical based on the film, the story gets to be told all over again. It gets to succeed again too.

I write, naturally, of The Harder They Come, which is currently rekindling its legacy with a world tour stage show that springs straight from London's West End. A few weeks back the play made its way to Toronto; now it has landed right here in Downtown Miami. And if the opening night crowd at the Arsht is any indication, that legacy its got might just get bumped up a notch.

You know the Jamaican tale: A country boy named Ivan moves to Kingston in order to become a star. But to do so he's gotta sign his life away to Mr. Big. That's not an option, of course. Then again, neither is starving. So the singer turns to a life of crime. Petty pot deals beget gun play and things go downhill from there. Well, downhill from a law-and-order perspective. See outlaw Ivan becomes the star he set out to be. Only different. Then his girl rats him out and he ends up dead.

As a film it was a gritty look at Rude Boy culture and the legacy of violence. As a musical, it may have lost a bit of its grit. But it hasn't lost any of its resound. Why? Because it's driven by some of the best songs ever sung, in any genre. And here at the Arsht they're sung by the same 15-person cast that sang 'em in London, including Rolan Bell in the lead and Joanna Francis as the girl who won't let him get away.

And man oh man, does this cast deliver. Back by an ensemble called The Hilton All-Stars and ranging in make-up from soldier (Cavin Cornwall) and Preacher (Victor Romero-Evans) to mini-skirted Pinky (Susan Lawson-Reynolds) and mother Miss Daisy (Joy Mack), the vast cast runs through the classic tracks as if they were born to them. And I defy you to find fault with being bred to render such hits as "Many Rivers to Cross," "You Can Get It If You Really Want," and "Higher and Higher," not to mention that ubiquitous title track.

It's as the play swings to a close though, that things perhaps become most uplifting. When the whole crowd gets to its feet and joins in on a medley that easily lifts the Ziff right up in the air. It's a stunning conclusion, at once melodious and triumphant. And by the time the last note had died, there wasn't a still heart or a sad eye in the entire house.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: I've been called a Rude Boy so many times in my life I've no choice but to identify with Ivan.

Random Detail: Even with the program's handy-dandy glossary, the patois was often so thick I couldn't get it.

By the Way:
The Harder They Come runs only till September 13, so you best get your tickets quickly.


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