Anthony Wayne makes it ’Mighty Real’
You can wear the fashions, you can play the old records and you can watch all the YouTube clips you want-but other than getting into your funked up time machine and setting it for the 1970s, there’s no better way to experience that era’s signature musical style than seeing it performed live. Even in the sprawl of NYC, though, it’s tough to find authentic disco.
To the rescue comes Anthony Wayne-whose one-night-only tribute to singer/songwriter Sylvester touches down at Le Poisson Rouge on July 29.
Wayne, who has recently been seen in "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" and "Anything Goes," drafted some of his fellow Broadway performers to bring a forgotten legend back to the stage. Their hope is that Fabulous, One More Time: A Sylvester Concert. will help bring some much-deserved attention to the late disco and soul performer, who died of complications from AIDS in 1988.
"Being a young black man who performs," says Wayne, " I appreciate how he opened a lot of doors for young gay men. He did things that people [mainstream performers] just weren’t able to do at the time, such as dress up in drag. In that period, it was not acceptable to be flamboyant. But he had the confidence and strength to fully be himself, with no apologies. As he got into the ’80s, when they were tying to change his image and style, he just kept going against the grain."
Sylvester’s short but influential career, which lasted from around 1972-1987, was the topic of a documentary that aired as part of TV One’s "Unsung" series. Prior to seeing that show, a familiarity with the 1978 hit "You Make Me Feel Mighty Real" was Wayne’s main exposure to Sylvester. By the time the credits rolled on "Unsung," he was hooked.
"That [documentary] was the catalyst," Wayne recalls, "that made me think it would be great to delve into his life story. I ended up learning more about him, and his music started getting into my soul."
By the time Wayne found himself going through his day singing like Sylvester (which, he says, happened often), the notion of a live tribute concert was beginning to take shape.
Mutual Admiration Society
"The idea bounced around in my head for a year," Wayne recalls. "Then I got caught up in ’Anything Goes’ and ’Priscilla’ on Broadway. As I got into it," Wayne says of the Sylvester Mutual Admiration Society that formed among his Broadway peers, "I started to realize there were people around me who knew him, and even more people who recall his presence. They remember the songs he was singing, and they remember being in the audience and listening to his music. I was like, ’Wow. That energy is still present.’ "
It didn’t take long before casual backstage discussions of Sylvester, combined with Wayne’s enthusiasm, resulted in a creative template-and cast-for "Fabulous, One More Time."
Two of his "Priscilla" castmates (Anastacia McCleskey and Jacqueline B. Arnold) portray Two Tons of Fun-the frequent Sylvester collaborators who later became the Weather Girls,
"Most young people these days don’t really know who Sylvester is," laments Wayne, "Yet they recognize who the Weather Girls are, because of ’It’s Raining Men.’ But I was surprised to find out how many who are older and in the Broadway community remember him. As I speak the name Sylvester, there’s a smile that comes to their faces."
Wayne says audiences who didn’t live through the disco era
are also in for a visual and musical education that is more about lovingly rendered recreation than nostalgia and camp.
"The fashions," he assures, "are fantastic. Just over the top. Kendrell Bowman has come up with these costumes that have touches of the ’60s and ’70s...very elaborate. It doesn’t look dated, though. It looks new and crisp and reminds us of what was."
Bring brassiness back
Musical Director Trevor Allen, leading the Groove-a-Tunes Band, provides the live accompaniment.
"That’s the name of Trevor’s band," Wayne explains. "Basically, I got together with him and we talked about to creating a show that gave audiences an authentic experience. It’s going to be exactly as if this were a concert in 1978-when he [Sylvester] put out an album called ’Living Proof.’ It was a live album he did at San Francisco Town Hall, where they [his longtime collaborators] got together and sang all of his songs. Listening to that album, what struck me was the horns. So we’re going to bring that brassiness back."
Like that 1978 celebration, Wayne’s "Fabulous" unfolds "as if he were performing a concert for the last time. The premise is for the show to start as if he were still here with us...eventually, you find out he’s gone and that’s when everything changes."
By the time the night is through, the uninitiated will leave having learned "all about his life, the highs and the lows. Come out and be ready to dance ready to sing, ready to be inspired. It’s going to be great to bring his story to the forefront and let people know there was a pioneer who went against the grain, who insisted on being himself. I’m inspired by that."
Fabulous, One More Time: A Sylvester Concert will be performed on Sunday, July 29, 6pm at Le Poisson Rouge (158 Bleecker Street). For tickets ($25 seating, $15 standing), go to http://lepoissonrouge.com/events/view/3465. Also visit awayne.com.