Talk about Throwback Thursdays! I was transported last night into the 1970s disco era as I watched Anthony Wayne completely embody the psyche, style and joie de vivre of legendary performer Sylvester in the beyond excellent musical “Mighty Real,” playing through March 1 at San Francisco’s Brava Theater Center.
Not since Tony Winner Audra MacDonald transform herself into Billie Holiday has there been an actor and a part that are so perfectly matched. Wayne does more than perform like Sylvester, he channels him and brings him back to life for a whole new audience to enjoy.
Sylvester, a flamboyant disco performer who was the self-proclaimed Queen of Disco, danced his way from Los Angeles to make San Francisco his home. One of the first celebrity victims of AIDS, the show, in which Wayne as Sylvester is on stage telling the artist’s story, doesn’t dwell on the sadness of death. It’s more a celebration of life and music and encouraging us all to be whoever he wants to be.
The story, with book by Wayne as well, peppers in stories from Sylvester’s life, including about being molested in the church as a child. Wayne, who also co-directed with his partner Kendrell Bowman, manages to mix in great facts about the singer, his musical influences and dreams all the while giving the audience an evening of high-energy music whose BPM would delight any club DJ.
This is a musical biography master class in which artist and character are one. Wayne truly must have received a spiritual call from Sylvester himself to be so involved in so many aspects of one project. He also likely has heard good feedback from beyond as this show is nothing short of perfection.
The same is true for Bowman behind the scenes. Not only is he co-director, but he is costume designer, helping the entire company sparkle in more ways than just their talent.
“Mighty Real” definitely isn’t a one man show. Wayne is aptly supported by a wonderful on-stage band and four beyond amazing background singers, all of whom get their own number as the show tells of some of Sylvester’s musical influences with songs from some of these artists. Deanne Stewart and Rahmel McDade make you take notice…but then the scene stealers Anastacia McCleskey and Jacqueline B. Arnold come on as the Weather Girls, who were originally background singers to Sylvester.
The audience jumps to its feet many times throughout the night but never as high than when the girls do “It’s Raining Men.” It takes a true talent comfortable in their own skin to be able to share the stage with such powerhouses without feeling upstaged. But, like Sylvester reminds his singers one time in the show, it’s his name on the marquee.
“Mighty Real” is likely one of the best, most jubilant musicals to come to San Francisco in a long time and it’s almost as historic to see Anthony Wayne BE Sylvester as it was to watch the original artist perform in his day.
Get tickets and more information at www.brava.org.