The 1988 Castro Street Fair was a dedicated “Tribute to Sylvester,” and although he was too ill to attend, the crowds chanted his name to such an extent that he was able to hear them from his bedroom on Collingwood Street a few blocks away where he was dying of AIDS. “I don’t believe that AIDS is the wrath of God.” Sylvester once said, “People have a tendency to blame everything on God.”
We lost Sylvester on December 16th, 1988. He was only 41. Like so many artists we’ve lost too soon, Sylvester has left his permanent mark on the world, but more specifically, he left his mark on both gay culture and black culture – making an honest choice to live his life authentically in a time when that was very difficult. Sylvester paved the way for so many gay people to be themselves in spite of societal norms.
He set an example that we can all aspire to. In a time when very few gay men were out, Sylvester was out, on stage and serving flawless drag and androgyny. He was unapologetically Sylvester. Mighty Real, A Fabulous Sylvester Musical is the critically acclaimed musical hit that celebrates the life of the Original 1970’s Disco Queen Sylvester. With songs like “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)“, “Can’t Stop Dancing” and “You Are My Friend“, this show tells the life story of Sylvester through HIS music and HIS point of view.
Bound for Broadway in 2017, the show will make an encore stop here in San Francisco February 17th – March 13th at the Brava Theatre.
Broadway Star Anthony Wayne (Broadway’s “PIPPIN” , “PRISCILLA”, “Anything Goes” ) sings, lives and breathes life as the 1970’s Disco Singer Sylvester. The show, also, features Broadway’s Anastacia McCleskey (“PRISCILLA”; “HAIR”, “Book Of Mormon”) and Jacqueline B. Arnold (“We Will Rock You”, “PRISCILLA”) as The Two Tons of Fun/Weather Girls. Additional cast includes DeAnne Stewart and Rahmel McDade. Mighty Real is Directed by both Wayne and Kendrell Bowman with the book written by Wayne. Bowman (Celebrity Fashion Stylist for artist such as K. Michelle, Lauriana Mae & David Banner) recreates the 1970’s couture as Costume Designer.
Anthony and Kendrell are real-life partners and have made it their mission to bring the story of Sylvester to the stage. With the help of Broadway veteran Sheryl Lee Ralph, the guys were able to find the support they needed to give the production a ‘Mighty Real’ chance of making it to Broadway. Ralph’s award-winning work includes creating the role of Deena Jones in the legendary Broadway musical, “Dreamgirls,” and earning Best Actress nods for Tony and Drama Desk Awards. Recently, she returned to Broadway for a 12-month stint in the Tony-award winning musical, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” portraying the sassy chanteuse Muzzy Van Hossmere. Currently, she is touring the one-woman play, “Sometimes I Cry,” a production written and performed by Sheryl Lee Ralph, which explores the lives, loves, and losses of women infected and affected by HIV. No stranger to television, Sheryl Lee Ralph credits include “It’s a Living,” “Designing Women,” “The District,” and most notably, “Moesha.”
We were thrilled to sit down with Sheryl, Anthony and Kendrell to talk about the return of Mighty Real to San Francisco for an encore run. When we asked about the revamped show, Kendrell laughs “We’ve added more Sylvester! We’ve truly upgraded the show in every regard. More story, more songs, more costumes, more lighting, and some big improvements to the sets.”
“We’ve refined the show.” Says Anthony, who performs as Sylvester on stage, “We’ve perfected the show. We have taken it to a new level and we hope that people will return and appreciate it for a second time. Those who haven’t seen it, however, are in for a ‘Mighty Real’ treat. We want to bring our best to Broadway.”
Sheryl adds, “The ‘Fabulousity’ quotient has been raised through the roof!“
They all understand that San Francisco is protective of the Sylvester story. After all, Sylvester is a child of the Castro and a star in the City by the Bay.
<Left> How did you do the research for this musical? Sheryl: “Honestly, we had a lot of conversations with his family. There were also a lot of intimate conversations with his friends and colleagues. Once you mention the name ‘Sylvester’ to his friends, there is an out pouring of love and emotion from everyone who knew him. There is something really moving when so many people tell you the same story about someone. You know you are getting the truth. It was a wonderful way to recreate this man and bring him back for one night only.”
Anthony: “For me, there was a lot of studying and watching old videos. I wanted to get the mannerisms down. I wanted to really understand him. I was able to take everything and compile it into what I call his ‘essence.’ I listen to his music before each show and honestly, I work to simply bring his spirit to life. I let it all just go through me. Being able to come to San Francisco and do this means so much.”
<Left> What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned in this process? Anthony: “I’ve learned that he was very gracious and giving. It wasn’t just about his music – it was about being true to himself. There was so much authenticity in the way that he lived his life.”
Sheryl: “See what I mean?! All these stories all intersect. Everyone who knew him really understands that he was gracious and kind – he was a wonderful, giving soul. On top of that, he was a dedicated performer who didn’t hold back when he was on stage. He gave everything.”
<Left> How are you rallying the young kids around this show? Many of them have no idea who Sylvester was – how do you get them engaged with this story? Sheryl: “Oddly enough, they rally around us! I think Sylvester’s music is unique – but his story, the story of being marginalized and of being on the outside, that’s a universal story. Sylvester may have passed on, but he has left a legacy of music for us. You can be shopping at Target and hear ‘Mighty Real’ over the speakers. Kids have been exposed to the music all their lives, even when they didn’t know it.”
“When gay people come to the show,” Sheryl continues, “and when black people come to the show – these people are always touched in a very special way. It feels like, ‘Wow. I can relate to that story – I understand that man’ and that is a beautiful thing.”
Kendrell adds, “This show is not just theater. It’s a party. This show is a night at the club. When you walk in, you feel the experience of Studio 54 and the excitement of the disco. It’s very interactive. We want people to sing along and dress up in costume and really just have a great time. Bring your fans. Bring your boas. This is a celebration.”
“There is only one question we ask when we do this show…” Sheryl laughs, “and that is ‘do you wanna funk?!’ We dare you to sit down for this whole show! <laughs> We dare you! This is a fun night out so bring friends and just let loose and enjoy yourself.”
<Left> When will Sylvester take Broadway? Kendrell: “It’s happening in the spring of 2017! San Francisco gets the sneak peek and this is where we plan to work out the show so that we can deliver our very best to the bright lights on Broadway. We know San Francisco is THE place to tell this story the way Sylvester would want it told. This is truly his City.”
Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical returns to the Brava! Theatre for Women in the Arts | February 17 – March 13, 2016 | Wednesdays 7pm / Thursday, Friday & Saturday 8pm / Sunday 2pm & 7pm | Tickets $35 – 100 | Buy Tickets Now!
Special Performances benefitting Bay Area organizations:
Thursday Feb 18th – SF AIDS Emergency Fund
Sunday Feb 28 – Black Theatre Night – Black Artists Contempiorary Cultural Experience
Sunday March 6 -Queer Cultural Center
Thursday March 10 – Museum of the African Diaspora
Sunday March 13 – KPOO Radio