×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

L.A. Legit Review: ‘One Night in Miami…’

It's easy to see why investors are eyeing this crackerjack world premiere

With:
Burl Moseley, Jason Delane, Matt Jones, Jason E. Kelley, Giovanni Adams, Damu Malik, Jah Shams.

Any playwright can stick celebrity facsimiles together in a room; it takes real talent not only to render those portraits believable but also to invest the encounter with dramatic weight. In “One Night in Miami…,” first-time scribe Kemp Powers potently imagines what went down among buddies Cassius Clay, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown on the February 1964 night when Clay claimed the heavyweight crown. Investors and A-listers are reportedly circling this world preem from L.A. producing company Rogue Machine, sensing the commercial potential of four plum leading roles, crackling good dialogue and timely themes.

Helmer Carl Cofield deftly manages the easy banter among four old pals whose partying is as profane as it is impromptu. Few besides Clay, lest we forget, expected him to prevail that night, and there’s plenty of awed respect along with all the razzing. Young Matt Jones captures the all-consuming confidence and eagerness we associate with The Greatest, jumping on the bed to reenact his triumph. It’s not too soon for him to wail, “Why am I so pretty?”

Societal upheaval inevitably insinuates its way into the seedy motel room, recreated to a tacky tee by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz. Malcolm (an intensely wired Jason Delane) insists prominent black achievers take an unequivocal civil rights stand. His adamancy chafes Cooke (Burl Moseley, mellow but no less high-strung), whose craftier business model has the likes of the Rolling Stones covering R&B hits as the functional equivalent of employees. Most of today’s African-American empowerment issues are jawed out here between vanilla ice cream provided by Malcolm and secret shots of hooch out of Sam’s luggage.

At the same time all four icons are in a process of self-reinvention, which separates them even further. Brown (dangerous, droll Jason E. Kelley) knows the score where race in America is concerned, avowing a preference for upfront racist rednecks over condescending liberals as he forges a post-NFL movie career. Cooke, for all the water he dashes on Malcolm’s fire, agonizes over whether he should be crooning “Yoooouuuu…send me” to fat cats in nightclubs while a skinny Jewish kid from Minnesota is out there explaining what’s really blowin’ in the wind.

And then there’s the Nation of Islam, for which the new champ is about to change his last name to X even as the more famous X’s differences with leadership, personified by two solemn, ubiquitous bodyguards (Giovanni Adams and Damu Malik), are coming to a head. Even those unaware of what would transpire at the Audubon Ballroom almost exactly one year later will be moved as differing political visions become intensely personal.

A few glaring instances of 20/20 hindsight aside, Powers weaves together multiple strains of plot and character with a seasoned pro’s skill. His mission to present a believable slice-of-life with contemporary resonance is, like Clay’s, achieved in a decisive knockout.

L.A. Legit Review: 'One Night in Miami...'

Rogue Machine, Los Angeles; 99 seats; $30 top. Opened June 8, 2013. Reviewed Aug. 2. Runs through Aug. 18. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

Production: A Rogue Machine presentation of a play in one act by Kemp Powers.

Creative: Directed by CarlCofield. Sets, Stephanie Kerley Schwartz; costumes, Naila Aladdin Sanders; lighting, Leigh Allen; sound, Christopher Moscatiello; stage manager, Daniel Coronel.

Cast: Burl Moseley, Jason Delane, Matt Jones, Jason E. Kelley, Giovanni Adams, Damu Malik, Jah Shams.

More Legit

  • The American Clock review

    London Theater Review: 'The American Clock'

    Time is money. Money is time. Both come unstuck in “The American Clock.” Arthur Miller’s kaleidoscopic account of the Great Depression, part autobiography, part social history, crawls through the decade after the Wall Street crash, dishing up snapshots of daily life. In the Old Vic’s classy revival, director Rachel Chavkin (“Hadestown”) tunes into the play’s [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Off Broadway Review: Jake Gyllenhaal in 'Sea Wall/A Life'

    Comfy? Okay, let’s talk Death: sudden death, painful death, lingering death, accidental death, and whatever other kinds of death happen to come into the receptive minds of playwrights Simon Stephens (“Sea Wall”) and Nick Payne (“A Life”). The writing in these separate monologues — playing together on a double bill at the Public Theater — [...]

  • Michael Jackson Estate Cancels Musical Test-Run

    Michael Jackson Estate Cancels Musical Test-Run

    With an HBO documentary that places strong allegations of abuse against Michael Jackson premiering in two weeks, the late singer’s estate announced Thursday that it’s canceling a scheduled Chicago test run of a jukebox musical about him. The estate and its producing partner in the musical, Columbia Live Stage, said that they’re setting their sights on going [...]

  • All About Eve review

    West End Review: Gillian Anderson and Lily James in 'All About Eve'

    To adapt a crass old adage: it’s “All About Eve,” not “All About Steve.” Stripping Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s sharp-witted screenplay about a waning theater star of its period trappings, Ivo van Hove’s stage adaptation fine-tunes its feminism for our own sexist age — image-obsessed, anti-aging, the time of Time’s Up. Rather than blaming Lily James’ [...]

  • Adam Shankman

    Listen: Why Adam Shankman Directs Every Movie Like It's a Musical

    Director Adam Shankman’s latest movie, the Taraji P. Henson comedy “What Men Want,” isn’t a musical. But as one of Hollywood’s top director-choreographers of musicals and musical sequences, he approaches even non-musicals with a sense of tempo. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “When I read a script, it processes in my head like a [...]

  • Matthew Bourne's 'Cinderella' Review

    L.A. Theater Review: Matthew Bourne's 'Cinderella'

    How much can you change “Cinderella” before it is no longer “Cinderella”? In the case of choreography maestro Matthew Bourne — who, it should be said, first unveiled his spin on the classic folk tale some 22 years ago — the music is most certainly “Cinderella” (Prokofiev’s 1945 score, to be exact), but the plot [...]

  • 'Pinter Seven' Review: Martin Freeman Stars

    West End Review: 'Pinter Seven' Starring Martin Freeman

    “Pinter at the Pinter” has been an education — a crash course in Britain’s greatest post-war playwright. Director-producer Jamie Lloyd’s star-studded, six-month sprint through Harold Pinter’s short plays and sketches has been exquisitely curated and consistently revelatory. Not only has Lloyd tuned audiences into the writer’s technique, his unconventional groupings have exposed a load of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content