Reimagining Perry Henzell’s legendary 1972 movie The Harder They Come The stage is never easy, Direct, clear-cut, obvious, or easy. The film – now widely regarded as possibly the greatest Jamaican film ever made and a milestone in bringing reggae to the rest of the world (Bob Marley only went global the following year) – was none of these : It’s a hectic, fast-paced romp through the street life, subcultures, and gangster alliances of Kingston, Jamaica, full of slander, betrayal, payola, corruption…and a killer soundtrack.
The same goes for new productions at the Public Theater (just extended through April 9), including a book (and a few new songs) by acclaimed playwright Suzan-Lori Parks. The big strokes from film to stage are much the same: Young, ambitious Ivan (Netti Jones) heads to the big city in a gleeful pursuit of fame and fortune with a hit song he’s hard at work recording. When he finds himself sidelined from that pursuit because he won’t sign a dead-end deal with local hit producer Hilton (Ken Robinson) – Hilton isn’t just colluding with the showrunner and record store owner on the island, of course. , but there are also corrupt cops – Ivan takes refuge in a church led by a charismatic preacher (J. Bernard Calloway), where he meets the righteous Elsa (played by singer Mika). When Ivan and Elsa’s budding love leads to some new troubles at the hands of the not-quite-divine preacher, Ivan finally lands a job with a local marijuana entrepreneur — or, in terms of time and place, Marijuana Smuggler – Jose (Dominic Johnson). You can guess where things are going – in short: big trouble.
So far, in terms of plot, our track is very similar to the movie, although Parks’ stage adaptation includes 11 songs or Verse Song or Fragment – In the first act only (movie has 11 total). Still, the second act condenses and encapsulates the justice, waste, and gloriously hopeless evasion of the law by Ivan in Henzell’s film (if you’ve heard The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton”—”Look, he feels like Ivan / Born in the Brixton sun / His game is called Survival / At the end of The Harder They Come – you know the vibe) turned into a Pretty neat morality game. We get to the same place; it’s just a quicker trip, with less detail and nuance.
Does it all work? Songs and Music Sure. If the film’s original songs are still the best canned history of Jamaican music of the era, then the added numbers — whether mined from an equally rich Measured in square miles, Jamaica’s musical contribution to the world is unmatched by any other nation on Earth) or what Parkes calls – just to build on that honor, they are presented on a scale ranging from the astounding to the Within the limits of awe.