Photo by Joan Marcus
New York, New York March 29, 2023 --
Spoiler alert -- all doesn't go well for Ivan in The Harder They Come at the Public Theater. Intent on becoming a famous recording artist, Ivan, the impressive Natey Jones, ships out of his village to his mother's home in Kingston, Jamaica.

Within minutes of landing in the big city, Ivan is ripped off and an inherently naive sensibility hangs over him throughout the rest of the show.

A real charmer, Ivan ends-up destitute in a church led by a powerhouse Preacher (J. Bernard Calloway). Grateful to be cared for by the congregation, he falls for the Preacher's ward. Yes, turmoil ensues.

Based on the film The Harder They Come (which I did not see) the role of Ivan features Jimmy Cliff, the great reggae artist who was the first to popularize the music form internationally. With his head full of songs, Ivan believes he can be a music star. Surrounded by graft, ganja, and underground rowdies, Ivan rises as a savior of the working class people.

The work of choreographer Edgar Godineaux along with co-director Sergio Trujillo is visible in the animated Afro-Caribbean style dancing, driven by earthy beats, hip rotations, and creamy, rhythmic walks.

Many strong performances surface including the Preacher; Hilton (Ken Robinson), the blustering, over the top record mogul; Ivan's hard working mother Daisy (Jeannette Bayardelle); his innocent, loving wife Elsa (Meecah) plus the good-humored friend Pedro (Jacob Ming-Trent).

Directed by Tony Taccone, Ivan and Elsa exude a real chemistry, despite the cartoonish aspects of the musical, while Pedro's goodwill consumes the theater. With a book by the immensely talented Suzan-Lori Parks, this over-long production benefits exponentially from Kenny Seymour's kick-ass band pounding out the roster of Jimmy Cliff songs.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis


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