Photo Credits: Press Photos by Nathan Johnson Photography, Headshot Photo: (of Anthony Wayne in black shirt) by Timothy Ware
Absolutely fabulous are two words used to describe the colorful personality of Sylvester, the gay icon of the disco era. Nearly a quarter century after his death his influence on music and gay culture is still a reckoning force. “Fabulous, One More Time: A Sylvester Concert,” tells the story of Sylvester through his music. “Fabulous…Concert” is the brainchild of Norfolk, VA native Anthony Wayne. Wayne became inspired to produce the show after watch a profile on Sylvester on the TV One series “Unsung.”
Wayne is an actor and entertainer who has toured the United States and abroad both on and off-Broadway. Most recently he starred in James Nederland and Bette Midler’s production of “Priscilla, Queen of The Desert,” directed by Simon Phillips. Wayne earned kudos touring with the national company of “A Chorus Line,” “The Color Purple,” and “Fame-The Musical.” PrideIndex recently interviewed Wayne via email he talked about his influences, why he started awayne Productions and the glamorous life of Sylvester.
PRIDEINDEX: You have trained with two renowned danced companies, Alvin Ailey and Gus Giordano; why did you choose this professional over others?
ANTHONY WAYNE: Since I was 5 years old, I was always singing, dancing and acting. My mother placed me in a Children’s Theatre Program and I was bit by the bug. Training in those companies, I saw how people spent years and most of their lives dancing and I realized that I wouldn’t be happy JUST dancing. I have a passion for singing, dancing and acting ALL TOGETHER, so Broadway is “home” for me.
PI: When did you know you were going to become an entertainer?
AW: My Performing Arts High School took my class to see a production of “Fosse.” Little did we know that it would be the day after it opened on Broadway. The was in three acts at first, so after the first act, my friend and I didn’t move the entire intermission. We were so floored by what we had just experienced on stage. I knew then…at THAT moment that THIS is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
PI: Do you have any influences or mentors that have influenced your style as a performer?
AW: Oh, yes. My influences are Ben Vereen, Sammy Davis, Jr, Gregg Burge, Hinton Battle, and Lena Horne. They all are amazing, trailblazers and incredibly inspirational in their own unique ways. Watching these pioneers on stage and screen has influenced every part of me and I am honored to continue walking in their footsteps.
PI: You have starred both on and off Broadway in numerous shows. Why did you start your own production company?
AW: I started awayne Productions, Inc. because I found myself (and many others) auditioning and trying to fit the mold of someone else’s vision. At the same time, it bothered me how so much on Broadway, Off-Broadway, television and movies weren’t encouraging or inspiring ANYTHING OR ANYONE. What I was noticing in this business were producers who were just trying to get paid and doing what they could to get the most out of what little they put out. I was finding no heart, no soul and no joy out of what was happening on broadway or television. Just jukebox musicals and reality TV shows that weren’t helping or inspiring anyone in any way. Also, there aren’t THAT many roles our there for black men that aren’t stereotypical. So, I decided in order to make a change, why don’t I start my own company. We at awayne Productions, Inc. provide inspirational entertainment through performing arts and media. Anything that comes through my company is to encourage and inspire people to become better people. That’s the legacy that will live on forever. My goal is to try and touch/move people in such a way that when they leave the theatre or cut off a movie of mine, they find the strength within themselves to want the best in their life so others can see that within them and then they, themselves, can do the same for others. It’s an amazing cycle that we all can grow and learn from.
PI: What was the muse for “Fabulous, One More Time: A Sylvester Concert? “
AW: “Fabulous…Concert” started two years ago by me watching a program on TV One called “Unsung.” They tell the stories of people who were in the height of their career at one point and then disappeared over time. This one was about Sylvester and I had never heard of the man at all until this. I watched the story and became intrigued about him. I did some research and bought his music and really got into it. Eventually, I realized that I could sing like him. I was driving in the car on my way home to Norfolk one day and said to myself someone should do a movie on this guy. That’s when the wheels begin turning. It went from a movie to a small concert dedicational show idea, to what is now “Fabulous, One More Time: A Sylvester Concert.” It’s more like an Intimate Evening with the Man himself; behind all the glitz and glamour. I’m really happy to be bringing his story to life. I see it as him telling his story HIS way. It’s incredible and I can’t wait to share this “experience” with the world.
PI: Is this a one man show? Why or why not?
AW: Well, sort of. Sylvester garnered fame with his “Two Tons of Fun” back up girls better known as “The Weather Girls.” There is NO WAY I could tell this story without having them part of it. I did want to make sure that this show didn’t stray too far away from him, so they do have a very important supporting role in this piece, but it’s ALL from HIS perspective and that makes the show a lot more interesting.
PI: How did you prepare for “Fabulous?”
AW: I did a LOT of research on his past, his family, his upbringing, where he was from, what he did when he was younger, his transition into San Francisco and everything you could imagine that had to do with him. I, especially, read the book The Fabulous Sylvester by Joshua Gamson. That gave me a greater insight on the world around him wherever he went. I spoke with the estate holders, spoke with backup singers of his, spoke with friends and people who knew him. It has been an incredible experience building this world within myself that IS SYLVESTER. Now, with all this information, I have, now, constructed a character that embodies the Essence that IS Sylvester and I’m grateful for that. I know people will come to the show either expecting to see who they remember back in the 70’s/80’s or people will come with now expectation at all. All I want to do is bring Truth, Honesty and Honor to the man who broke barriers and encouraged many to live everyday to fullest while loving themselves in the process.
PI: What is your favorite Sylvester song?
AW: “Over and Over.” I love the Soul and Joy that’s throughout every inch of that song. The horns, the groove and just the sheer thrill of performing that song is bliss. It’s an Ashford and Simpson song that makes me and my partner, Kendrell Bowman, really happy.
PI: Why does this show take place for only one night?
AW: Many performers travel around the country and do “one nighters” in different cities. I’ve done a couple of cabaret shows here in New York for one night each and they sold very, very well. As I was developing the concept, I decided to do only one night here to see how the response would be and if it would even work. Now everyone is asking me why is it only one night. lol. The idea is to do it the 29th of July and then perhaps again sometime really soon. The hope is that it can be done more and go much further after this, but we shall see.
PI: Do you have plans to take this show on the road?
AW: Yes. There are plans and talks to do perhaps an Off-Broadway run with my eye on Broadway. I believe it has the potential for that and much more. I can see it being performed in Chicago, Los Angeles and, of course, San Francisco! The sky is the limit and I’m just grateful to share this great man with the world…again.
PI: Patti LaBelle and Martha Wash were both good friends of Sylvester. Have you reached out to either one of them to attend the show?
AW: We have not reached out to Patti as of yet, but we have reached out to Martha and we hopefully she will make it out. I’m sure she would LIVE and enjoy it.
PI: What’s next on the horizon for you?
AW: The day after the concert, I will be starting rehearsals at 10am for “PIPPIN” at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass (http://www.americanrepertorytheater.org/node/11419). We do a workshop up there for three weeks and then have a Three Month Run before (potentially) heading to Broadway in the Spring. It’s exciting to be doing my own project while staying relevant within my own Broadway career. It seems to create a balance that’s indescribable. I really hope to keep the momentum of this “Sylvester” Concert vibrant and look forward to sharing it with the rest of the world.
“Fabulous, One More Time: A Sylvester Concert” premieres for one night only on Sunday, July 29, at 6 p.m. at Le Poisson Rouge located on 158 Bleecker Street, NY 10012 visit www.lepoissonrouge.com. For more information on Anthony Wayne visit www.awayne.com.