There was never anyone quite like Sylvester. Often referred to (with apologies to the late and equally deserving Donna Summer) as “the Queen of Disco,” Sylvester possessed one of the most soaring, angelic falsettos in the history of recorded music, as he proved with dance classics such as “Do You Wanna Funk?” and “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).” The entertainer, whose love of singing began as a boy in the church choir, was also openly and unapologetically gay at a time when few other performers were brave enough to sashay out of their closets. When Sylvester passed away of AIDS-related causes in 1988, the entertainer left behind a magnificent and enduring legacy of music that continues to thrill fans old and new. Among them is Broadway performer Anthony Wayne, whose credits include A Chorus Line and Pippin, who created Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical, to honor the late legend. Following earlier sold-out runs in New York, Miami and WashingtonD.C., the show will open in a limited engagement at Manhattan’s The Theatre at St. Clements September 14-October 5. Wayne chatted with Queerty about his inspiration for the show and how he first discovered the iconic entertainer.
Sylvester was one of the first during that time period to be loud and proud through any adversity. For us to look back and see how much of a trailblazer he was for many of us to have the freedom we all do today is why his legacy is remembered and celebrated.
What made him stand apart from the other performers of his era?
During his era, no one had the courage to be their real self. Sylvester lived an open and authentic life and to have the tenacity to be stand and be the true “Queen of Disco” made him stand above all the rest even though he never got the recognition for it. Now is the time to change that with Mighty Real.
Who were some of his musical influences?
Legendary divas like Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday and Diana Ross, to name a few.
Just like many, I hadn’t heard of Sylvester since I was just born when he was at the height of his career. I was first introduced to Sylvester through a special I saw on TV. I was inspired by his story to be himself and, as I got into his music, I bought his albums and found myself singing just like him. I said to myself that someone should do something to honor the legacy of this man. It was as if God said, “You, chile!” From there, I spoke to my partner, Kendrell Bowman, about the idea and we put our minds together to create Mighty Real. This incredible show tells his life story from beginning to end by utilizing the catalogue of his music and show the essence of the true man behind all the glitter and flash everyone knew him for.
What are some of the most surprising things about him you discovered while doing research on his life?
While researching his life, I was surprised of how deep the Church sound and groove was ingrained into his music. I was inspired to know that even though he was ailing from the AIDS epidemic, he still wanted to be out and about and seen in the Pride parade in San Francisco being pushed in a wheelchair. He did so much to let people know that they survive anything if they say focused and driven to be themselves. His strength surprised me and I’m grateful to portray his life Off-Broadway this fall in NYC.
What was the response to the show when you performed it before?
People were crying, dancing, singing along and getting their lives. It was incredible to bring back a time to people when they were free with no dividers. The great thing about the new incarnation is that we’re able to recreate this and bring people into Sylvester’s world. I can’t wait to feel that again and to have everyone dance in the disco heat from what Kendrell and I have created from the ground up.
What do you want the audience to think about Sylvester when they leave your show?
People will leave elated, happy and excited they took the time to experience the passion of this fantastic man. They will also leave dancing and singing the songs they all knew, as well as be inspired to continue living their best lives to the fullest everyday…just like Sylvester did.
Watch a promo for the show below.