Anthony Wayne as Sylvester | Photo by Nathan Johnson
Disco is dead. Long live Sylvester! The trailblazing queer pioneer — who rocketed up the charts in the ’70s and ’80s with hits like “Do Ya Wanna Funk” — is now receiving an exuberant musical retelling of his life, Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical, Off-Broadway this fall.
It’s all thanks to Anthony Wayne, a Broadway actor in his early 30s who only recently discovered the music. “I saw a TV show about his life story in 2010,” says Wayne, who is taking a leave of absence from his ensemble role in Broadway’s Pippin to perform as Sylvester. “I was inspired by his drive to be who he was regardless of what he went through.”
Although he’s singing the hits — such as “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” and “Dance (Disco Heat)” — it’s not simply an entertaining impersonation. Wayne crafted the musical, Sylvester’s life’s story, which he wrote and co-directed with his partner, Kendrell Bowman, to be an inspirational tale of discovery.
“Nowadays, people have their own labels for what they want to say. He was just Sylvester,” Wayne says, aware that people still wonder whether Sylvester identified as a drag queen or transgender.
When Wayne mentioned Sylvester to his co-stars in Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Anastacia McCleskey and Jacqueline B. Arnold, the three began collaborating on a concert; Wayne performed as Sylvester, and his co-stars became the Weather Girls, Sylvester’s backup singers in the ’70s. That original concept has since been developed into the full-length musical, with Wayne in full fabulousness: glitter, glamour, fan flipping, and red platform heels. Sheryl Lee Ralph signed on as a producer after Wayne approached her on Twitter.
Though Sylvester died in 1988, “the Queen of Disco” and his message of love and acceptance will now be introduced to new generations, who, like Wayne, never knew him in life. "We wanted to know what we could do with the story that would impact the globe,” Wayne says, explaining that he and the audience get emotional while singing “You Are My Friend.” “To be able to bring that to people, it's indescribable.”
Watch Anthony Wayne perform You Are My Friend from Sylvester below: