Sharon D Clarke plies her trade in The Life at Southwark Playhouse

Cornell S John and Sharon D Clarke in The Life. Images Simon Turtle

New York’s underbelly is exposed in The Life, a Broadway musical making its UK premiere at London’s Southwark Playhouse this March starring Sharon D Clarke and Cornell S John.

Rehearsals began this week for this thrilling exposé of the darker side of 1980s New York. The Life is a defiant and heartfelt musical about Times Square before it was cleaned up. A world of pimps and prostitutes, innocents and opportunists, it’s a gutsy and gritty joyride filled with both pathos and fun.

The Life makes its long awaited London debut directed by the show’s original Broadway director, Michael Blakemore.

Joining Clarke and John will be John Addison, David Albury, Jalisa Andrews, Matthew Caputo, Lawrence Carmichael, Omari Douglas, Aisha Jawando, Thomas-Lee Kidd, Charlotte Reavey, Jo Servi, Lucinda Shaw, Johnathan Tweedie, T’Shan Williams and Joanna Woodward.

Described by the New York Times as “Broadway’s best kept secret”, The Life features a rarely heard score by celebrated composer Cy Coleman (City of Angels, Sweet Charity, Barnum) and is based on an original idea by lyricist Ira Gasman.

Queen (T’Shan Williams), a young girl from Savannah, and Fleetwood (David Albury), a Vietnam vet with a drug habit, are trying to make it in a merciless New York.

She is forced into part-time prostitution and The Life describes how the two lovers move through this dark world until Queen is helped by her one true friend, an older, more experienced hooker, Sonja (Sharon D. Clarke), to make her escape.

On the way we meet Memphis (Memphis star Cornell S.John), the all-powerful king pimp, the girls he controls, Jojo (John Addison), the hustler, who makes it all happen, and the fresh-faced Mary (Joanna Woodward), straight off the bus from small town Minnesota, only too eager to embrace The Life.

The Life plays at the Southwark Playhouse from March 25-April 29.

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