Original ‘Sparkle’ Cast Member Shines Again

When dreams of a reunion tour with the original film's actors died, Lonette McKee devised a plan B.

Dorian Harewood, Lonette McKee, Irene Cara, Dwan Smith and Philip Michael Thomas (Warner Bros. 1976)

Still, Cara said she thought it was an honor for the original cast to have had Whitney Houston involved in the new production. “I’m very happy that she loved our film enough to remake it,” she said. “I’ve heard rumors for 10 years that everyone and their mother was remaking this movie. When I got the call last year that they were actually filming it, it really surprised me because it has been like the boy who cried wolf with this project. But I hope it will be a shining moment in [Houston’s] legacy.”

McKee — who describes herself as a big fan of both Houston (“I didn’t know her, but who doesn’t love Whitney?”) and Sparks (“Jordin is sweet. She has star quality written all over her.”) — said she is excited about seeing the new film. And though the cast reportedly wasn’t approached to take part in the remake, which was produced by Bishop T.D. Jakes, don’t expect to see a repeat of the drama that surrounded the 2006 film adaptation of Dreamgirls. At the time, original cast member Jennifer Holliday claimed that she had been snubbed because the movie’s producers didn’t ask her to participate in the film.

“I don’t need to be involved with the remake,” McKee said. “It has nothing to do with me. I did my work. One project is one project, another is another. It’s an honor to have been involved with something people think highly enough of that they want to remake it.”

The remake has drummed up buzz because it marks both Houston’s final film performance and pop star Sparks’ film debut. But the original was a phenom in its own right, helping to make stars out of those in front of and behind the camera, including Thomas, who went on to star in the ’80s TV hit Miami Vice, the prolific director Joel Schumacher, who co-wrote the Sparkle screenplay, and McKee, who has gone on to appear in some 40 TV and film projects, including a number of Spike Lee joints, such as Jungle Fever, Malcolm X and She Hate Me.

McKee, who currently teaches an acting workshop at the City College of New York, has a slew of upcoming music, film and TV projects, including an urban tragedy, Dream Street, which will serve as her directorial debut. “Sparkle was one of those magical moments in moviemaking history when all the elements came together,” McKee concluded. Perhaps the new cast will soon be able to say the same thing.

N. Sheree Saunders is a New York City-based writer.

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