Watching the exuberant and boundless energy within The Harder They Come makes you realise how, at times the musical genre is full of ponderous moments and lots of earnest hand-wringing in between songs. Of course, this is required to convey the emotion of a piece like Miss Saigon. But, where this fantastic musical succeeds is its sheer lack of pretension.
Following the life of Ivan (Matt Henry) as he leaves his sleepy home town in search of success in the lively Kingston area, this show is a replay of Perry Henzell's film version. But before you think - Footloose, Saturday Night Fever or juke box musicals, think again. This is one of those rare occasions, where the stage version is better than the celluloid original. As for the musical material, it is not inserted willy nilly, the songs simply fit like a glove.
The story, although full of familiar arcs - good guy meets bad guys, sells drugs, resorts to crime, etc - it feels fresh due to Kerry Michael and Dawn Reid's sterling direction and a perfect cast - who all deliver flawless performances. On stage throughout the show, each one of them brings something to the material, ranging from comedy, heartfelt vocals, thrills and sexy moves.
Henry is a true showman and has many of the females in the audience begging for more. His face says innocence, yet his character is far from it. This works wonderfully well and boy, can he move! In smaller roles, Jacqui Dubois and Joy Mack shine, as does Natalyia Roni. And Marlon King has the kind of vocals that could melt butter and he gives a fine performance.
Alanna Leslie provides the perfect partner for Henry, as her gospel syle vocals really move you and she conveys the right amount of innocence as his 'Juliet' - Elsa. The band are faultless and many of them act in the piece also. There is nothing this company cannot do.
Sometimes, the characterisation is slightly at odds with itself as Henry's Ivan is hardly a saint, yet applauded and protected. But at the same time, it's refreshing to see a flawed anti-hero in a musical. The set may be static but the show is not, as every inch of the Lyric stage is used and the frenetic pace is thanks to key lighting changes and superb teamwork by the cast and directors.
With classic hits such as "Many Rivers To Cross", the title track and (You Love Has Lifted Me) "Higher and Higher" - the urge to get up and throw some shapes is fulfilled at the end during the encore. My advice to the doubters; shut up and dance!
The Harder They Come is edgy, romantic, funny and gripping. But most of all, it's infectious - so catch it!