The Harder They Come: The Musical


As the musical based on Perry Henzell’s 1972 film The Harder They Come prepares to open in Toronto, Canada, after a successful 3-year run in London, the Globe and Mail has interviewed Henzell’s daughter Justine about the development of the musical. Justine Henzell, one of the founders of the Calabash Literary Festival, explained how the musical came about:

In 2004, only a few years before his death at the age of 70, Henzell was approached about turning the movie into a stage musical, using much of the same score, including such Cliff songs as Sittin’ in Limbo , You Can Get It If You Really Want and Many Rivers to Cross . He initially declined. He had made his film, watched it defy all expectations in terms of its reach, and didn’t believe that a stage version was likely to preserve what he regarded as the sine qua non – authenticity. He didn’t want it watered down to meet the needs of theatregoers.

But in time he was persuaded to change his mind, and three years ago, The Harder They Come, the Musical opened in March, 2006, in London’s Theatre Royal Stratford East, with Henzell adapting the film script himself for the stage story and writing new lyrics for the songs.

The article had this to say about the creation of the original film:

The story of the film’s creation is almost a saga unto itself. Using untrained actors and borrowing funds from every possible source, Perry Henzell needed three years, four separate shoots, three different cinematographers, countless script rewrites and many editors before The Harder They Come premiered at Kingston’s Carib Theatre in 1972. On opening night, a mob scene ensued. Thousands milled around the theatre and people were forced to sit two to a seat inside.

But it was hardly an overnight sensation. Film distributors balked, insisting that audiences would need subtitles to decode the Jamaican dialect. Henzell became his own distributor and spent six years on the road, showing the film in 43 countries.

However, while the film struggled, its music soared, a reggae explosion that began with the soundtrack (Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker and Toots and the Maytals) and, with the subsequent release of albums by Bob Marley and the Wailers, turned the music into a global brand.

Perry Henzell left behind another film and a novel, which his daughter is now preparing to release:

In addition to the film and the musical, there is No Place Like Home , a second film that was unaccountably lost for 30 years in a New Jersey warehouse, was rediscovered a few years ago and is being re-edited for future distribution (a version of it was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival a few years ago), and Power Game , a novel. All three, she said last week over lunch, were originally conceived by her father as parts of a trilogy exploring the life of Ivanhoe (Rhyging) Martin, a real-life Jamaican outlaw and folk hero.

Henzell says she wants to finish the editing of No Place Like Home and then turn Power Game into a TV miniseries. “Somebody asked me recently whether I missed Perry, and I said, ‘I don’t have a chance to miss him. I live with him every day, all day.’”

You can find the article at

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