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Review Roundup: Suzan-Lori Parks' THE HARDER THEY COME Opens At The Public Theater

The world premiere musical The Harder They Come, an adaptation of the classic Jamaican film, is now playing through Sunday, April 2 at The Public Theater.

The world premiere musical The Harder They Come, an adaptation of the classic Jamaican film, is now playing through Sunday, April 2 at The Public Theater. Read the reviews!

Fifty years after the film premiered in New York City, the musical features a book and additional new songs by Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks, songs by legendary musician Jimmy Cliff, music supervision, orchestrations, and arrangements by Kenny Seymour, choreography by Edgar Godineaux, co-direction by Tony Award winner Sergio Trujillo, and direction by Tony Award nominee Tony Taccone. The production began performances in the Newman Theater on Thursday, February 16 and officially opens on Wednesday, March 15.

The complete cast of THE HARDER THEY COME includes Jeannette Bayardelle (Daisy), Shawn Bowers (Ensemble), J. Bernard Calloway (Preacher), Andrew Clarke (Lyle), Eean Sherrod Cochran (Understudy), Tyla Collier (Understudy), Jamal Christopher Douglas (Ensemble), Tiffany Francès (Understudy), Garfield Hammonds (Understudy), Dana Marie Ingraham (Ensemble), Dominique Johnson (Jose), Chelsea-Ann Jones (Ensemble), Natey Jones (Ivan), Dudney Joseph Jr (Ray), Dwight Xaveir Leslie (Understudy), Morgan McGhee (Ensemble), Meecah (Elsa), Jacob Ming-Trent (Pedro), Alysha Morgan (Ensemble), Ken Robinson (Hilton), Housso Semon (Ensemble), Denver Andre Taylor (Understudy), Sir Brock Warren (Ensemble), Carla Woods (Understudy), and Christopher Henry Young (Ensemble).

The breakthrough film, produced and directed by Perry Henzell and co-written with Trevor Rhone, tells the story of Ivan, a young singer who arrives in Kingston, Jamaica, eager to become a star. After falling in love and cutting a record deal with a powerful music mogul, Ivan soon learns that the game is rigged, and as he becomes increasingly defiant, he finds himself in a battle that threatens not only his life, but the very fabric of Jamaican society.

Jesse Green, The New York Times: It looks like such a bright, sunshiny day as the lights rise on "The Harder They Come," the reggae musical that opened on Wednesday at the Public Theater. The patchwork vibrancy of Kingston, Jamaica, where the story takes place, is efficiently and joyfully sketched in a tin-sided, palm-fronded, louvered and latticed streetscape, lit in happy yellows and purples and bursting with people wearing island florals. And when we meet our hero, the "country boy" Ivan, who has come to the city to seek his fortune as a singer, he is bubbly and hopeful, with a bubbly and hopeful opening number to match: "You Can Get It If You Really Want." But can you? Alas, over the next two hours or so, the answer will prove to be no, not just for Ivan but also for the audience. Like the chaotic 1972 movie it's based on, which helped introduce reggae to audiences beyond Jamaica through the songs and charisma of Jimmy Cliff, the musical, adapted by Suzan-Lori Parks, is yanked apart by irreconcilable aims. The uplift of the infectiously danceable tunes keeps obscuring what turns out to be a deeply unsunny story.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: In addition to writing the book, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Parks ("Topdog/Underdog") shows real talent for songwriting here. Several new songs have been added to the original soundtrack, and Parks replicates Cliff's infectious sound while also providing the kind of book songs that reveal character and further the plot. Providing ample support are Kenny Seymour's orchestrations and arrangements that make Parks's music flow easily into Cliff's big hits.

Dan Rubins, Slant Magazine: Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks's new jukebox adaptation at the Public Theater, with its lively direction by Tony Taccone and Sergio Trujillo, succeeds at offering New York audiences a rejuvenating infusion of Caribbean music. But as hard as the hits may come, in its current iteration, this dramatically tangled reimagining of the film falls pretty hard too.

Sandy MacDonald, New York Stage Review: So much top-drawer talent has been poured into this production, it's dispiriting to see it put in service to such a simplistic scenario. At best, the stage version may inspire you to re-watch the movie, which unfolds in gritty detail like a semi-documentary. Musical theatre is simply the wrong vehicle for transposing what began as a ground-breaking exercise in partial cinema verité. This production even manages to under-utilize one of its star players: Jeanette Bayardelle, whose soaring vocals uplifted Girl from the North Country. You'll have to wait nearly to the end, when Ivan's mother falls to her knees and - all too briefly - wails.

David Finkle, New York Stage Review: Still, The Harder They Come is a fun show, as the 25 song inclusions prove (including "The Ballad of Ivan," a Parks original). Also, Jones' initial light-hearted, broad-smile performance slowly transforming into wide-eyed desperation is front and center and center, closely followed by Meecah and Bayardelle and the sleek villainy of Hammonds, Calloway, and Johnson. Worth the admission are Jones and Bayardelle rafters-ringing on "Many Rivers to Cross." Let's hope for quick release of the original cast album.

Jonathan Mandell, New York Theater: "The Harder They Come" offers almost three dozen musical numbers, far more songs than were in the movie, even though the running time, about 105 minutes (this is minus the intermission) is almost exactly the same. I suppose that all these musical numbers should be a plus, but they started to sound too much the same to me. I also wonder whether their profusion is at all responsible for what felt like competent but not especially memorable performances - even from proven talents like Jacob Ming-Trent, who was so terrific in the Public's summer 2021 production of "Merry Wives", but here gets little chance to shine as Ivan's best friend Pedro.

David Cote, Observer: Harder isn't a bad musical, just one caught between honoring its Jamaican roots and razzle-dazzling a general audience. It could be bolder, angrier, more reckless. Eight years ago in this same Public Theater space, another show about a poor, ambitious man from the Caribbean became a global hit. Ivan, sadly, throws away his shot.

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