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Theater can offer audiences a view into the fantastical, the amazing, and even the past. In the Spring of 2017, theatrical artists Anthony Wayne and Kendrell Bowman will bring their talents together to present a duo of musical shows about two famous stars--beloved R&B legend and Tony Award nominee Phyllis Hyman and flamboyant disco icon Sylvester.

Both “An Evening With Phyllis Hyman” and “Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical” received rave reviews during their initial runs, and are now set to play encore performances on May 20 and 21, respectively, at the Gramercy Theater.

Sylvester

Sylvester James Jr. was born in the Watts section of Los Angeles, California, in 1947.

He grew up singing in church choirs and embraced a love for soul and disco. Sylvester did not shy away from expressing himself as a gay man, and his early career focused on the formation of drag groups The Disquotays and The Cockettes. He moved to New York City in the 1970s where he flourished in its rich nightlife and openness to drag culture.

Sylvester's stage appearance became increasingly flamboyant, performed regularly at nightclubs such as Studio 54, and enjoyed massive success with his 1978 disco classic hit "You Make Me Feel Mighty Real" which is still aired on dance radio stations today.

The "Queen of Disco," as he came to be known, released twelve albums over the course of his career before succumbing to complications from AIDS in 1988. In 2004, his song "You Make Me Feel Mighty Real" was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame and, in 2005, Sylvester was also inducted for his lifetime artistic achievements.

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Phyllis

Singer and actress Phyllis Hyman was born in Philadelphia in 1949. The oldest of seven children, Phyllis worked hard to help her working-class parents while also cultivating her love for singing and acting. Phyllis moved to New York in the 1970s, worked on a number of soul and R&B albums, and appeared in several acting gigs.

Her big break came in 1981 when she performed in Broadway's "Sophisticated Ladies" to incredible acclaim. Her performance garnered her a Tony Award nomination and Theatre World Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical.

Her musical hits include "Living All Alone," "You Know How to Love Me" and "Don't Wanna Change the World," as well as a cover of “Betcha By Golly Wow." She also ventured into film and appeared in Spike Lee’s “School Daze” in 1988. Likely driven by her battle with bipolar depression, she committed suicide in 1995.

Interview

Both shows focus on these individual’s careers and lives. Collaborators Anthony Wayne and Kendrell Bowman recently discussed the creation of these plays and their experiences with theater:

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get into acting and directing and costume designing?

Anthony Wayne (AW): My mother enrolled me in a children's theater company in Virginia called CenterStage, Inc.

under the direction of Blues/Jazz singer Margie Day-Walker. She taught me about dance, singing, public speaking, and acting. I was five and took to it like a fish takes to water.

Kendrell Bowman (KB): I’ve always loved theater since I was a child in my first play “Annie.” I went to college in New York City at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy for the theater. “Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical” was the first show that I directed.

Fashion was always in my blood. My mother and grandmother would make their clothes, and I watched them on their sewing machines. Costume designing was easy for me. I also ran the “Ready To Wear Division” for Louis Vuitton and Balenciaga for years.

MM: How and why did you form a production company?

AW: The production company, AnthonyKen, LLC. was developed due to my and Kendrell’s drive to create shows for people who love music and wants the immersive experience. We want to continue to bringing quality entertainment to all while inspiring anyone to live their best self to the fullest. “Mighty Real” was the first show to bring that goal to life and An Evening With Phyllis Hyman” continues our mission on various levels.

KB: We formed AnthonyKen LLC. Because we felt that there weren’t many shows on Broadway that showcased minorities in a light that told compelling stories.

MM: How did you select Sylvester and Phyllis Hyman to focus work on?

AW: Sylvester and Phyllis Hyman were both symbols of individuality and living your truth. Kendrell was inspired by Phyllis’ strength to be her woman and make her voice heard while I was inspired by Sylvester’s drive to be his full and individual self with no apologies. They were strong and truthful at a time when it wasn’t the thing to do at all. With their bodies of work as well as their incredible fashion sense, it only made sense to create these two shows and share their journeys with the world again as a celebration to those who paved the way for many today.

KB: We related to each show in a personal way and wanted to inspire others with their lives as theirs moved us.

MM: When you were researching the lives of Sylvester and Phyllis, did anything about their lives or personalities particularly surprise, move, or make an impression on you?

AW: It moved me to know that Sylvester’s story reached so many. Whenever we do the show, I see so many people of all colors and ages in the audience. It makes me grateful that we can bring people together in a way that they can all feel united in a fun and educational way. As I researched Phyllis Hyman, I was moved to stand in my truth no matter who judges me. I think that’s something we can all take away - to know that you can take the world by storm by standing and listening to your yourself continues to move me every day.

KB: Sylvester was an extremely giving person. He was always donating to charity and, to this day, a percentage of his royalties support AIDS Emergency Fund and Project Open Hand, which he chose. Despite how beautiful and confident Phyllis Hyman was on stage, she was very insecure and lonely.

MM: How did you initially get these shows produced and how, exactly, did you find the venues?

AW: Kendrell and I raised money on Kickstarter and reached out to a bunch of our supportive friends. Over the past two years, we were blessed to be able to find the venues online, break down all the numbers to make sure it all makes sense and do all the producing things to make it all make sense. It takes a LOT of work, but we’ve learned so much and continue to hit new heights every show.

KB: We started our company with our first show “Mighty Real” with a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. Once we achieved our goal, we began reinvesting our money to continue producing our shows and create our new production “An Evening With Phyllis Hyman.” We found the venues by doing extensive research.

MM: What has the process of production been like? For instance, Sylvester wore some pretty wild outfits! Was it fun to design his wardrobe for the play?

AW: Kendrell designed all the costumes for both shows, and I just am the lucky one who gets to put on the Sylvester attire! Overall, production has been great. From the disco balls to the creation of the script content, it’s so much fun to see how the audience reacts to the new things we’ve added and surprise songs as well. It’s like they are truly thrown back to Studio 54, Paradise Garage or The Limelight!

KB: It was so much fun designing Sylvester and Phyllis Hyman costumes. Two divas! Sequins and fur for Sylvester and shoulder pads and big hats for Phyllis!

MM: What do you hope audiences will remember most about these productions?

AW: I would like the audiences to walk away with an incredible sense of self and strength, knowing they can do anything if they stay driven, determined and inspired within themselves. Let go of the insecurities that make you think and believe less and let life come out. Only then will you see the true essence of what you can accomplish.

KB: I hope audiences will leave the theater feeling empowered and inspired, knowing they can accomplish anything in life if they love themselves.

MM: What had been the best part of working on these shows and in the overall theater industry?

AW: Working with our incredible team who work hard, focus on the goal and make it happen. That’s priceless to me, and I’m grateful to each of them (especially Kendrell) who give their hearts and souls for the greatness of both shows.

KB: The best part of working on these shows is to work with a talented group of people every day. I have tremendous respect and have been inspired by our entire team, from the person selling merchandise to the star on the stage. Everyone matters!

MM: Due to your success with these, do you have any other shows in the pipeline?

AW: There are so many amazing plans for both productions (of course BROADWAY is on the horizon), but we will reveal all things in due time! We just ask for people to stay connected to us and sign up on the website. Kendrell is promoting his Book “HOW TO PRODUCE A SHOW FROM YOUR COUCH, ” and I’m working on a brand-new show of my own that will be announced very soon on my website. We can’t wait to share it all with the masses.

KB: Something big is coming…but I’m also focusing on my new book “How To Produce A Show From Your Couch” and teaching other aspiring directors and producers on how to do it on their own!

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For tickets and information about both shows and Anthony and Kendrell's projects visit their website at AnthonyKen com and Google the show's titles.