Get SF Weekly Newsletters

Friday, February 13, 2015

He'll Make You Feel Mighty Real: Anthony Wayne Brings Sylvester Back To Life

Posted By on Fri, Feb 13, 2015 at 2:59 PM

Around 1979 gay pop star Sylvester appeared on the decidedly conservative TV chat show The Merv Griffin Show, where after belting out his latest hit tune, he sat down with Merv, who asked the disco superstar about his upcoming projects.

"I'm in the film The Rose with Miss Bette Midler," Sylvester said in his most effeminate voice. "I play Miss Billie Holiday".

It's very possible that Sylvester, who died in 1988 from AIDS, was the first openly gay pop star. Tunes like "Dance" (Disco Heat) and "You Make Me Feel" (Mighty Real) became anthems for that first generation of American gay men who were able to safely come out. In the years prior to the onset of AIDS, Sylvester's music told gay men that it was okay to dance in the street and be who they were. 

Sylvester rose as a community icon, with his popularity peaking at about the same time Harvey Milk became the country's first openly gay elected official. 

Now, courtesy of actor/playwright Anthony Wayne, his persona returns to the stage in San Francisco.  Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical stars Wayne playing the late musical superstar. The show can be seen at the Brava Theater Center through March 1.

Wayne, a musical theater veteran who is openly gay, has numerous performing credits on Broadway and in touring companies. His resume includes Fame, A Chorus Line (which he performed in San Francisco), Anything Goes, The Color Purple, and Pippin

Wayne and Kendrell Bowman, who is both his producing partner and his life partner, first discovered Sylvester while watching TV One's docu-series Unsung. "We were inspired to create Mighty Real because of Sylvester's ability to go against the grain," Wayne said. "During that time period, no one did the things he did which made him such a warrior."

The performer acknowledges how younger people such as himself benefited from Sylvester's openness and courage. "I truly believe that because of him and people like him, myself and so many others will have an easier life because of the sacrifice this incredible man made just by being himself," Wayne said. 

  • Courtesy of Nathan Johnson

Wayne also said that it was "unprecedented" for Sylvester, an openly gay African American man, to appear on mainstream television during the 1970s. There was backlash, but Wayne said that Sylvester rose above it.

"You will always have adversity," said Wayne. "Question is, what are you going to do about it? The choice is yours. Sylvester soared all the way to the end of his life."

Needless to say, Wayne is pretty thrilled about Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical, which he co-created with Bowman. "You don't just get a musical or a concert or a biography, you get a whole experience," he said. "We take you back to when Sylvester was a young man in his home, though the issues and struggles he had to overcome and then take you from the height of his career to his last intimate moments."

"Guaranteed to have you dancing out of your seats," Wayne added, as he prepared to turn himself into Sylvester.

More info: The home page features a clip that will give you an idea of how magically Wayne brings Sylvester to life.

See Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical at Brava Theater Center through March 1.      

  • Pin It


Comments are closed.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"