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    Acclaimed Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical Comes to SF for Limited Run

    mighty3Sylvester’s music and inner light were so powerful that we have yet to come down from the natural highs he generated with song hits like “Do Ya Wanna Funk” and “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).” He was so much of his time, living in—and helping to create—the disco era, celebrating free love, challenging gender norms and more. And yet he was so much ahead of his time, through his own life’s explorations and honesty, that he is timeless and still so relevant today. At the very least, we dare you not to dance to Sylvester’s music!

    Our music collections here at the venerable San Francisco Bay Times include worn LP’s, long-playing disco singles, cassette tapes, CDs and iTunes versions of Sylvester’s music, which lives on and on. Yet, it seems like he hasn’t received his full due in popular culture, not to mention LGBT culture. Younger generations need to become more familiar with his life and recordings. And we older folks could use welcome reminders about all that Sylvester accomplished in his short life. (Sylvester was just 41 when he succumbed to HIV/AIDS in 1988.)


    We were therefore beyond thrilled to hear that the critically acclaimed Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical is coming to San Francisco for a limited run. Based on what we’ve seen and heard, it is beyond spectacular. The clips alone are giving us ecstatic chills, given the soaring voices, staging and soulful grooves. The show was written by, and stars, phenomenal Anthony Wayne. He has been on Broadway in the musicals Pippin, Anything Goes, and Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Co-directing with Wayne is Kendrell Bowman, who also serves as the show’s costume designer.

    The talented cast includes Anastacia McCleskey (Violet, The Book of Mormon) as Izora Rhodes Armstead, and Jacqueline B. Arnold (We Will Rock You, Priscilla Queen of the Desert) as Martha Wash—a.k.a. the Weather Girls (Two Tons of Fun); as well as DeAnne Stewart and Rahmel McDade.

    The show has a set and lighting design by two-time Tony-nominee David Lander (Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, 33 Variations), costume design by Kendrell Bowman, and sound design by Rafe Carlotto/Sound Associates. The choreography is by McCleskey.

    Wayne and Bowman, life partners, were inspired to create the musical after seeing the “Unsung” documentary about the artist in 2010. Moved by his story—by Sylvester’s bravery to openly be who he was in an era in which that was not supported or encouraged by society—Wayne sought out his music. Hooked, he discussed Sylvester’s music and influence with Bowman, and they both put their talents together with determination to bring the icon’s story to the stage. The first incarnation of the show was a series of concerts at le poisson rouge in New York City in 2012, which were followed by sold-out performances in Washington, D.C. and Miami in 2013.

    Sylvester is synonymous with San Francisco, though, so it’s about time that the show comes to the Bay Area! Sylvester James, Jr., was actually born in the Watts district of Los Angeles, but he later moved to San Francisco and joined The Cockettes. It was in San Francisco that Sylvester really came into his own, eventually producing solo shows that led to his hit album Step II that spawned disco classics. In 2004, “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame. One year later, in 2005, Sylvester himself was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame for his achievement as an artist.

    Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical will be at The Brava Theater Center in San Francisco from February 11 to March 1. Tickets range from $30–$100 and are now available online at

    We also encourage you to check out the live original cast recording of the show, which is available online on iTunes and CD Baby. As Milo Miles of NPR wrote, Sylvester “deserves a modern spotlight.” Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical goes a long way in helping with that effort. Our thanks go to Wayne and Bowman, and the rest of their inspired team, for putting together this electrifying show. See it!