‘Sparkle’ shines as Whitney’s last bow

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by Kevin Amos

The decision to remake the classic 1976 “Sparkle” that launched the career of Irene Cara, Philip Michael Thomas, and others was an excellent choice by the producers TD Jakes, Whitney Houston and the director Salim Akil along with writer Mara Brock Akil. It gives the audience a glance of how the music industry worked at the height of the civil rights movement before the days of the crossover artist.

SparkleCast
SPARKLE CAST

While those who are under 40 probably don’t know about the original film let’s review for a minute. Of the people who appeared in the movie, Cara became the film’s breakout star. She went on to record many chart topping singles. Lonette McKee went on to other TV and film appearances, as did Mary Alice, Dorian Harewood and Philip Michael Thomas who went on to star in Miami Vice and more TV and film appearances.

The original storyline goes like this: The movie starts at 1958’s Harlem, New York. The Williams sisters, Sister (Lonette McKee), Dolores (Dwan Smith), and Sparkle (Irene Cara), are singers in their local church’s youth choir along with their friends Stix (Philip Michael Thomas) and Levi (Dorian Harewood). The girls’ mother, Effie (Mary Alice), works hard as a maid and struggles to keep her girls, especially Sister, safe. Stix, a budding songwriter who is in love with Sparkle, wants to start a group, and arranges the five of them into a quintet called The Hearts. The Hearts enter a local talent show contest, which they win with the help of Sister’s stage appeal and Sparkle’s strong songwriting. There was also an excellent soundtrack album produced and written by Curtis Mayfield featuring the vocals of Aretha Franklin. The songs on the soundtrack feature the instrumental tracks and backing vocals from the film versions, with Sister Re Re’s voice taking the place of the original lead vocalists.

In the remake the story changes a bit. Still set in the 1960s, but this time the setting is Detroit. The three sisters form a girl group and soon become Motown sensations, but fame becomes a challenge as the close-knit family struggles to stay together no matter what. This time the mother of the girls is called Emma (Whitney Houston). She is a single mom dedicated to her church who had struggled to make it in the music business as a soul singer when she was younger. Houston as Momma Emma had nightly bible studies and had the minister with his family over weekly for Sunday dinner. She let her daughters clearly know that “No daughter of hers is gonna be a singing sensation. You leave my house, there’s no coming back.” This was clearly Houston’s best dramatic role. Unfortunately it was her last.

Sparkle played by up and comer Jordin Sparks is the talented and struggling songwriter/singer who deals with issues tearing her family apart. Her younger sister Dolores played by Tika Sumpter wants to go to college but loves her sisters and is torn for support of them.

Sister, played by Carmen Ejogo is the stunningly beautiful lead singer who falls to the seduction and addiction of drugs, much like the first. Sister also becomes a victim of domestic violence brought on by the diabolical Satin played by Mike Epps. Both will receive best supporting actress and actor nominations. Ejogo has been appearing in feature films since 1986 including “Metro” with Eddie Murphy, “The Avengers” and “Lackawanna Blues.” Epps, a very funny comedian, is developing into quite a dramatic actor with this being his most serious role to date. Omari Hardwick takes on the role as Sister’s dissed and ditched boyfriend Levi and the always extravagant Cee Lo Green is in his element as the very cool Soul crooner Black.

The film’s soundtrack included all the songs from Mayfield the original film’s soundtrack as well as new original music by Sparks, Houston and Green. Whitney leaves not a dry eye in the house as she sings “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” in the film. Sparks performs “Celebrate” and Ejogo sings lead on “Yes I Do” and co-lead on “Jump,” “Hooked On Your Love” and “Something He Can Feel.” The movie is a great start for the growing career of Sparks and the memorable final swan song for the great Whitney Houston.

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