It’s been about a year since we last wrote about this upcoming stage musical (aimed for Broadway), courtesy of Tony Award winner, Bill T. Jones; but we’ve definitely been keeping up with its progress. After all, it’s not everyday that Super Fly is adapted for the stage as a musical; and we’ve also living in a time when Hollywood adaptations of successful stage musicals are so uncommon – even those that are based on original films (see 2009’s Nine, which was based on the stage musical of the same name, which itself was based on Federico Fellini’s master film work, 8/12).
Last summer, we announced Tony Award winning choreographer and director, Bill T. Jones’ (Fela!) intent to bring Black Orpheus, Super Fly, Monsoon Wedding and Berry Gordy’s life story to the Broadway stage as musicals. I recall remarking that I could immediately picture a stage musical based on Black Orpheus – itself a harmonic piece of cinema history, with the Brazil carnival as a backdrop; however, a musical based on Super Fly, I had some trouble imagining, but with definite interest! Especially as to whether Jones would incorporate Curtis Mayfield’s soulful and meaningful music into the stage adaptation.
Since then, there’ve been a number of workshops, cast announcements for those workshops, and more; and from what I can determine, the project is a lot closer to being fully realized.
Based on a casting notice, it looks like it’s going to be called simply, Super Fly, The Musical. Make sense I guess.
Second – my question as to whether Mayfield’s music will be used has been answered. And it looks like it’s a “yes,” including other 70s soul/funk luminaries.
Third – based on the breakdown of characters, it looks like they’re staying mostly true to the film – at least, in name.
And it looks like Bill T. Jones has found his Priest, aka Super Fly, the mixed-race “a drug pusher, stick-up artist and a child of the ghetto, he truly beats the system, outsmarting the corrupt police force so that he can break free and start a new life,” to use the words on the casting notice.
Justin Guarini is the actor’s name! You remember him? He was the first American Idol runner-up during that show’s very first season in 2002. Kelly Clarkson won.
I discovered this because Guarini shared the info on Twitter over the weekend; specifically, he posted a link to his blog in which he talks about how much he’s learned about Blaxploitation movies, and the era in which they were made, thanks to his preparation for the part, and he shares his physical transformation from Justin Guarini to Super Fly, via a set of photos.
Here’s a sample of what he said in the blog post:
When I took the role of “Priest” in the new musical “Superfly”, I had barely scratched the surface of what Blaxploitation was. I knew of it. I had heard and made plenty of jokes about the term “Superfly”, but I really didn’t fully understand the struggle of my people (something I still grapple with because of my solid lack of identity with any race, due to my multi-ethnic heritage) and the bitter pills they had to swallow while making these films. Then again, were they bitter pills to them? After all, what other movies did Black people have starring roles in during the time? I don’t have the numbers but I’m going to go out on a limb and say, very few […] In the musical “Superfly” I encountered the beautiful and at times haunting music of the era. Curtis Mayfield’s title track was, of course, the signature piece in the show. However, woven throughout the sonic tapestry were pieces from Issac Hayes, James Brown (Say it LOUD), and even Bob Dylan. Rich history laid bare before my feet…feet that have walked, with ease, the path that was slashed, burned and bled for well before I was born.
More where that came from can be found HERE.
As noted, he also shared a set of photos showing his physical transformation into Super Fly – photos I embedded immediately below:
So, what do you guys think about the transformation?
I should note that Guarini is no stranger to the stage; he has some credits on his resumer. And we know he can sing.
Guarini notes in his post that Bill T. Jones, makes him go through the entire transformation everyday, during workshops (unlike the other actors in the show), which helps him with the on-physical transformation that’s required for him to truly understand and embody the character, so much that he becomes the character.
Guarini also notes that he understands “the weight of the history” that rests on his shoulders.
Now word on when we can expect the show to eventually become a full reality; but we’ll continue watching its progress.
Check out the full breakdown of the core characters, lifted verbatim from the casting notice:
Priest (a/k/a Super Fly): Mixed-race (African American and Caucasian) man, mid 20s – mid 30s. Described as “a drug pusher, a stick-up artist and a child of the ghetto”, he truly beats the system, outsmarting the corrupt police force so that he can break free and start a new life. Though s ome may find him despicable, one cannot help but be moved by the ultimate triumph of this most unlikely hero. Sexy in a way that no woman can resist, his sexual energy is smooth and powerful. He is the very personification of cool in a time period when cool is what everyone wants to be. A great physique; a great sense of style. Actor must have the stature to play this iconic wide-brimmed-hat-wearing, chinchilla-coat-styling, bad bad man who drives a state-of-the-art tricked-out ’72 Eldorado. Priest was born in Harlem of a white mother and a black father; he is at home in the Harlem streets of the 1970s, and respected by even the most prominent figures of the underground drug world. Does drugs himself, but never to excess. Having overcome being shot when he was nine years old, he is fearless. Role requires a great actor. Must sing well. MUST BE ABLE TO DANCE OR MOVE WELL. Must know or be able to learn kung fu martial arts. ACTOR MUST BE FAMILIAR WITH MUSIC OF THE PERIOD AND BE ABLE TO SING THIS MUSIC WITH GREAT PASSION AND STYLE.
Eddie: African American man, late 20s – mid 30s. Wiry, fast-eyed. Priest’s partner in the drug trade and “main boy’” out of a family fifty strong out on the streets working for them. Lives the “Street Life’”, thieving, selling drugs, shooting craps – and he loves, as he describes it, “green money and new pussy”. Volatile and vengeful. Does not support Priest’s plan to get out – in fact, when the Mafia gets involved, he betrays Priest and sides with the Mafia against him. Takes hold of any modicum of power that comes within his grasp and uses it for personal financial gain and to murder anyone he feels has crossed him. Role requires a great actor. Must sing well, and be able to move with great style and rhythm. MUST BE FAMILIAR WITH MUSIC OF THE PERIOD AND BE ABLE TO SING THIS MUSIC WITH GREAT PASSION; MUST BE ABLE TO DANCE OR MOVE WELL.
Fat-Freddy: African American man, 20s. Lovable idiot. An innocent, in over his head in the underground drug trade of 1970s Harlem. A cousin to Priest, he feels somewhat protected by this familial connection, though in the harsh, dark and violent world of the underground drug trade, his innocence and naïveté ultimately do him in. Ernest and child-like; very heartful and lovable. In love with a prostitute named Sugar (his “Dulcinea”, if you will), and he will not leave her when the Mafia comes after him, in spite of Priest’s urging him to get out of town and attempting to provide for his safe passage. “I been waitin’ my whole life for a woman like this”, he says. He is murdered (subject of the well-known song “Freddie’s Dead”). Must be able to move very well. ACTOR MUST BE FAMILIAR WITH MUSIC OF THE PERIOD AND BE ABLE TO SING THIS MUSIC WITH GREAT PASSION AND STYLE. MUST BE ABLE TO DANCE OR MOVE WELL.
Scatter: African American man. Character may be played by an actor of any age, as long as he can play 60, while being remarkably fit and being able to dance well. Scatter is Priest’s mentor, who gave him entrée into the world of the Mafia. Very much like a father to Priest. Now retired from the drug trade and runs a restaurant/nightclub in Harlem. Warm and fatherly toward Priest, he is not afraid to whip a .22 from his waist and stick it in Eddie’s side for speaking to him rudely. Described as a “ruthless individual [who would] kill you for spitting, he is nothing to mess with”, but his love for Priest, whom he calls “Youngblood” is great. Scatter teaches Priest everything that makes him what he is, and when Priest asks him to re-enter the drug trade to help him in his scheme to get out, he does so knowing it might cost him his life (which it ultimately does). Actor must be able to DANCE. ACTOR MUST BE FAMILIAR WITH MUSIC OF THE PERIOD AND BE ABLE TO SING THIS MUSIC WITH GREAT PASSION; MUST BE ABLE TO DANCE OR MOVE WELL.
All very intriguing… I never thought we’d see Super Fly on Broadway as a musical. I need to go watch the film again, to see if I can envision it. I’m trying to imagine some cat in a leather-trim, narrow-waisted overcoat, wide-brimmed hat, exiting a customized, matching Cadillac Eldorado… or maybe I should say dancing his way out of a customized, matching Cadillac Eldorado, as an updated, stagey version of Pusher Man plays.
Cinephiles rant about Hollywood’s seemingly fading interest in original ideas, opting to adapt already existing works to film (stage plays and musicals, for example); meanwhile, here we have a revered stage director/choreographer working in the reverse – adapting films for the stage.
We’ll see how this goes… at this rate, this could be opening next year.