Jimmy Cliff's musical travels the hard road from film to stage

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The soundtrack to the cult 1972 film The Harder They Come propelled the young Jamaican musician Jimmy Cliff to worldwide fame, and brought reggae to mainstream audiences.

Last night the 61-year-old singer, who helped Bob Marley record his first song, was the guest of honour at the premiere of a new stage version of the film, at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, London.

The show has been adapted by Perry Henzell, the director of the original film, who also attended. Rolan Bell, a young British-born actor of Jamaican descent in only his second professional role, is the new star of a production that has attracted enormous advance bookings, and will play through the summer. It includes many of the best-known songs from the highly influential film soundtrack, including "Many Rivers to Cross" and "You Can Get It If You Really Want", after Cliff and his record label agreed to grant the rights.

Cliff, who played the lead role of Ivanhoe Martin in the original film, said: "I'm pleased to see it happening in London, it's the right place for it."

The story of a country boy who goes to seek his fortune in Kingston, but is exploited and finds himself on the wrong side of the law, the film was a landmark event in Jamaica. On its release in Britain, there was little interest, but a review by the jazz musician George Melly helped it find an audience. It went on to open in America.

"It was the vehicle that propelled me to international stardom. I was known as a singer songwriter before that, but people did not know me as an actor," Cliff said. "It showed the world where the music I contributed to create was coming from. It opened the gates for Jamaican music, internationally."