×

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.

Popular on Variety

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

  • Grand Horizons review

    'Grand Horizons': Theater Review

    Don’t stop me if you’ve heard this one, as you surely must have: A nice, all-American family is in the process of breaking up and trying to make this sad state of affairs seem funny in Bess Wohl’s Broadway outing “Grand Horizons.” After 50 years of marriage, Nancy (the ever-elegant Jane Alexander) and Bill (the [...]

  • Uncle Vanya review

    'Uncle Vanya': Theater Review

    Director Ian Rickson has had success with Chekhov in the past. His exquisitely balanced, tragicomic production of “The Seagull” (2007 in London, 2008 on Broadway) was well-nigh flawless with, among others, Kristin Scott Thomas as painfully vulnerable as she was startlingly funny. Sadly, with his production of “Uncle Vanya,” despite felicities in the casting, lightning [...]

  • The Welkin review

    'The Welkin': Theater Review

    A life hanging perilously in the balance of charged-up, polarized opinions: This courtroom drama could easily have been titled “Twelve Angry Women.” But playwright Lucy Kirkwood (“Chimerica,” “The Children”) is far too strong and imaginative a writer for so hand-me-down a cliché. Instead she opts for “The Welkin,” an old English term for the vault [...]

  • Tina Fey attends the "Mean Girls"

    Tina Fey Announces Movie Adaptation of Broadway's 'Mean Girls' Musical

    It’s good to be mean…the “Mean Girls” musical, that is. Producers of the hit Broadway show announced today that the Tony-nominated production is being adapted for the big screen for Paramount Pictures. The musical is based on the 2004 movie of the same name. “I’m very excited to bring ‘Mean Girls’ back to the big screen,’ Tina Fey, [...]

  • Freestyle Love Supreme

    Watch Lin-Manuel Miranda and 'Freestyle Love Supreme' in Exclusive Clip From Sundance Documentary

    Before turning “Hamilton” and “In the Heights” into musical phenomenons, Lin-Manuel Miranda could have been found on stage, spouting off-the-cuff rhymes with his improv group, “Freestyle Love Supreme.” After performing across the globe, the troupe — founded 15 years ago by Miranda, his frequent collaborator Thomas Kail and emcee Anthony Veneziale — made its Broadway [...]

  • Ariana Grande 7 Rings

    Rodgers & Hammerstein Are Having a Moment Thanks to Ariana Grande, 'Oklahoma!'

    Jaws dropped when it was revealed that the late musical theater titans Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II were granted 90% of the songwriting royalties on “7 Rings,” Ariana Grande’s 2019 No. 1 hit. The dominant motif of Grande’s song is taken from “My Favorite Things,” the cornerstone of R&H’s 1959 musical “The Sound of [...]

  • A Soldiers Play review

    'A Soldier's Play': Theater Review

    Now, that’s what I call a play! Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “A Soldier’s Play,” now being revived on Broadway by Roundabout Theatre Company, packs plenty of dramatic tension into smoldering issues of racial justice and injustice, military honor and dishonor, and the solemn struggle to balance their harrowing demands on characters who are only [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content