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24 Mar 2023

‘Mighty Real’: A one on one with Anthony Wayne

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March 24, 2023 Category: Entertainment Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO: Anthony Wayne

By Kharisma McIlwaine

There are musicians throughout history who are recognized for paving the way with their artistic vision. One of those musicians was Sylvester. 

Born Sylvester James Jr. in the Watts section of Los Angeles in 1947, Sylvester gained popularity during the disco era with hits “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” “Do You Wanna Funk” and “Dance (Disco Heat).” Dubbed the “Queen of Disco,” Sylvester was also responsible for introducing the world to his background singers, Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes, then dubbed Two Tons O’ Fun, who later struck out on their own as The Weather Girls. 

Outside of music, Sylvester was known for his impressive falsetto, iconic fashion, androgynous presentation and for being openly gay at a time when that was not always accepted. Sylvester’s His impact on the world was not solely centered around his contribution to dance music. Sylvester also donated to several HIV/AIDS organizations before losing his own battle to AIDS at the young age of 41. 

Decades later, Sylvester’s story remains an inspiration for performers all over the world. One such performer is Anthony Wayne. Multitalented actor, singer, producer, and director took on the task of telling Sylvester’s story. Wayne and producing partner, Kendrell Bowman, co-wrote and directed the original Off-Broadway production entitled “Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical,” created to pay homage the late icon. In the show, Wayne transforms into the legendary icon, providing audiences with anecdotal stories about Sylvester’s life through story and song. Wayne spoke with the SUN about why he chose to tell Sylvester’s story and about his efforts to create safe spaces in the Broadway world, specifically for Black men.

Wayne’s love for performance began at a young age in his hometown of Norfolk, Virginia.

“I was five years old and my mother put me into a children’s theater group called Center Stage for the Arts,” Wayne said. “There was a woman named Margie Day Walker. She was a blues singer in the 60s. She decided to give up her life (because she believed Christ told her to come back to Norfolk,  where she was from originally) to teach children.” 

“I was one of those kids,” he explained. “She wanted to give us the basics of public speaking, dance, tap, ballet, jazz, singing and piano playing. I would do that summer program that was based at Norfolk State University. That’s how it all started for me.”

Wayne continued pursuing theater doing local productions in his hometown. After seeing “Fosse” during a school trip to New York, he knew that Broadway was the goal. He continued his studies at Shenandoah Conservatory, where he graduated, while also studying dance with the world-renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. 

Wayne went on to land roles in several productions including “Once On This Island,” national tours with “The Color Purple” and “A Chorus Line.” He also took on the role of Raymond (Tina Turner’s first love) in “Tina The Musical.” 

As a creative, Wayne continued to push forward and found the inspiration to create “Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Story.”

“It was 2010 — I had just moved to New York,” he said. “There was a guy named Lee Summers who had this program that he created at the Triad on 72nd. It was called “Just A Piano Concert Series.” I needed some money. I would take all the songs that I knew, and I would put my story in between. That’s how I kind of started developing the structure. During that time, I saw that TV One “Unsung” did a special on Sylvester. When I saw it, I was, like, ’Wow this man is amazing!’ So, I decided to take his music and put his story around it, create a structure like that, and do a concert. By that point, I had met my producing partner Kendrell.  He saw me trying to put it together and then we became producing partners. We started creating it together and it’s just kind of built from there.”

After a one night only performance at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City on July 29, 2012, the audience fell in love with  the show and wanted more. It  developed from a concert to a musical, and eventually caught the attention of Emmy Award winner Sheryl Lee Ralph.

“Kendrell was tweeting and tweeted Ms. Sheryl Lee Ralph,” Wayne said. “She replied back and said, ‘This needs to be on Broadway.’ We were, like, ‘Let’s help make it happen.’ After our conversation, she said, ‘Meet me in Philly — let me see you and talk more about it.’ Kendrell and I got on a bus, went to Philly, talked to her and then she became a co-producer. Then we produced it off Broadway after doing Kickstarter to raise some money and it just kind of took off from there.” 

Wayne is not only brilliant when it comes to his tribute to Sylvester, but he is also a champion of humanity.

“I don’t choose to do “Mighty Real” and be Sylvester for me to be seen,” Wayne said. I don’t do it for the clout, I don’t do it to be showy. It’s very easy to mimic someone — to put on a dress, bounce around, to throw a fan, pop and bounce — but that’s not what it needed to be. That’s not what we created it to be. It needs to be rooted in a space of love and heart, and be a celebration, inspiration and education. With Sylvester’s story, it’s about how can [I] amplify this voice in a way to inspire people to find their greater selves? If we continue to stay rooted in the mission of that, then I’m grateful to use myself as a vessel, to be able to sing it and be able to use my acting skills to bring this story to life.”

“With this show — “Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical” — we celebrate Sylvester as an entity of himself,” Wayne continued. “We celebrate his music; we also are inspired by his story of resilience. In the 50s, 60s and 70s, people weren’t open to someone who was androgynous that would dress up and sing in the range that he did. Then the third level is that it becomes educational. We’re going to educate people about HIV and AIDS, but also inspire them. Even though Sylvester and a load of people passed away because of the epidemic, you’re here now to live on in their legacy, to tell their story and to live your life to the fullest every day. That’s why we continue to do this show, with plans to do even more.”

Even in death, Sylvester continued building his legacy and remained an advocate for those living with HIV/AIDS, donating his royalties from the future sale of his music to Project Open Hand and the AIDS Emergency Fund. 

In addition to Wayne’s incredible work with “Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical”, he is creating a legacy of his own with his non-profit organization called Black Broadway Men. Black Broadway Men’s mission is to create safe spaces and communities for Black men on Broadway.

“With Black Broadway Men, we celebrate, educate and motivate Black men of the Broadway theater community,” Wayne said. “I’ve done a handful of Broadway shows in my past. [In] most of the shows I’ve done, I’ve been the only man of color in the room, and I don’t think people noticed. A lot of times, I wouldn’t have a connection with other Black men in theater. People don’t have the support from other men, and you don’t know what that conversation is —  you’re building it and learning on the job.” 

“We’re a 501C3 nonprofit and we give out scholarships and grants to young Black men who are coming into theater either from college or going into college,” he said. “We help them with the transition into New York. We also have a mentorship program for older gentlemen to connect to younger gentlemen who need the guidance. We also have a playwriting initiative where we find Black men who want to use their voice through the pen. I’m really excited that we get to do that.”

To find out more information about Black Broadway Men and how you can support the organization, be sure to visit their website at: and follow them on IG @blackbroadwaymen. 

For more information about “Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical” and how you can see the brilliance for yourselves, visit: and follow @mightyrealsylvester on IG. To follow and support Anthony Wayne on his journey and keep up to date with all upcoming performances, visit his website at: and follow him on social media @mrawayne.

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