Suzan Lori-Parks always tells our stories with depth and flair, and brings our struggles and triumphs to light in a way that is funny, respectful, blunt, and engaging. That is what she has done with “The Harder They Come,” based on the film of the same name made 50 years ago, produced and directed as today’s musical by Perry Henzell and co-written by Trevor Rhone and on stage at the Public Theater (425 Lafayette Street). 

This jammin’ musical features the songs of Jimmy Cliff, including “You Can Get It if You Really Want.” Parks created the book and provided additional new songs to tell the story of Ivan, a young Jamaican man from the country who comes to the city to make his dreams of being a music star come true in Kingston, Jamaica.

The audience meets Ivan when he comes to Kingston to see his mother and tell her that the grandmother who raised him in the country has died. He shares his dreams of wanting to be a singing star. His mother, Daisy, tries to warn him to go back to the country. She tells him that Kingston is a very dangerous place that can destroy you. 

Ivan proves to be a hard-headed young man with a dream, but also finds himself desperate to acquire his basic needs. As you watch his journey unfold, you learn of the atmosphere in Kingston in the 1970s—how the drug trade was big business and everyone had their hands out, including the police. You also witness how the power structure was very discouraging when it came to the music business. There was a definite monopoly environment where one man could make or break a new artist.

“The Harder They Come” has a love story, a dream, and a person who sees himself as a hero who is fighting for the underdog. The musical is full of amazing energy by the cast, delightful choreography, and wonderful singing performances from reggae to gospel music.

Leading the cast as Ivan is Natey Jones, and he gives a charged performance. 

Jeannette Bayardelle gives a captivating performance as Daisy, trying to guide her son in the right direction. Bayardelle has one of the most powerful vocal instruments! When she lets her voice go, it soars to new heights. 

Meccah is charming as Elsa, Ivan’s love interest. 

Jacob Ming-Trent as Pedro gives a marvelous performance. He always manages to bring humor to his roles, although like his fellow cast members, he can belt out a song as well.

Other featured performers who deliver smooth performances include Dominique Johnson as Jose, Andrew Clarke as Lyle, Ken Robinson as Hilton, and—on the night I was there—understudy Denver Andre Taylor as Preacher.

The musical has entertaining direction by Tony Taccone; co-direction by Sergio Trujillo; engaging choreography by Edgar Godineaux; and vibrant, pulsating music supervision, orchestration, and arrangements by Kenny Seymour. 

If you want to get your jammin’ on, you need to head to the Public Theater right away because this production will only play through April 9. For more info, visit

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