Sheryl Lee Ralph pushes her DIVA Foundation
5/22/2014, 12:20 p.m.
Time not only heals old wounds, but also changes perceptions. In the ʼ70s, it was written that the music industry had sunk to its lowest point with the advent of disco. Typically, it was the players that were frowned upon, not the game. Aside from the Bee Gees and Donna Summer, artists affiliated with that genre weren’t allowed to escape the box the industry created. Over 30 years later, disco was given a new package and moniker, and suddenly pop success beckoned. I guess it’s the price of being a pioneer.
Who best to illustrate the point than one of the queens of disco, Sylvester. Yeah, it’s written correctly—“queen.” It was a title that he coveted as he embraced his sexuality and wore it on his sleeve.
Actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, herself a star on the rise during that time as her portrayal of Deena Jones in the original stage version of “Dreamgirls” garnered her Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations, was a peer and friend of the singer. She shared, “He was an outstanding man living in his truth, long before anyone said it was OK to do it. He was who he was out loud and proud. He was a DIVA: ‘divinely inspired victoriously alive.’”
Ralph has partnered with Broadway star Anthony Wayne and stylist Kendrell Bowman to produce a stage play detailing the trials, tribulations, glitz and glamour of the iconic figure, called “Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical.” Written by and starring Wayne, the story is a biographical account of his roller-coaster life told with the assistance of his music.
After starring in sold-out runs of the show in Washington, D.C., and Miami, Wayne observed, “You start to see how infectious the music still is. You see how many people were thrown back to that time when they lived and enjoyed the music with family and friends. And it offers to a younger generation what that time was. At the same time, the script was written with a purpose.”
Bowan, who, in addition to serving as co-creator and co-producer of the show, also serves as the show’s costume designer, said, “When you come to the show, it’s not the typical theater setting. After the first song, everyone is on their feet coming together to party. It’s not a show for just disco lovers or drag queens; it’s for everyone. When you leave, you’ll not only feel good, but you’ll be inspired to be better.”
To add further depth, Ralph will enlighten the audiences about her philanthropic organization, the DIVA (Divinely Inspired Victoriously AIDS Aware) Foundation, a not-for-profit organization she founded in 1990 to commemorate the many friends she lost to AIDS. The DIVA Foundation aims to generate resources and organize artistic activities to draw awareness to HIV/AIDS. The organization utilizes music and entertainment as a vehicle to inform, educate and erase the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS.
Ralph concluded, “I’m sure if Sylvester were here, he’d be honored that we took the time to honor how he lived and died, because he was fabulous from beginning to end.”
I haven’t seen it yet, but “Mighty Real” is set to start previews on Sept. 5, and opening night is Sept. 12 at the Theatre at St. Clement’s (423 W. 46th St.). All tickets go on sale June 2. For tickets or information, call OvationTix at 866-8110-4111 or visit www.fabuloussylvester.com.
Over and out. Holla next week. Til’ then, enjoy the nightlife.