On February 25th 1964, 22-year-old Cassius Clay became the world heavyweight boxing champion after defeating Sonny Liston. Choosing to celebrate his victory quietly, Ali and friends, Malcolm X, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke headed to the Hampton Hotel in Miami to eat ice cream and converse. One Night in Miami centres around these real events and that unforgettable evening, but while we don’t know the genuine actions that took place, the premise was enough for writer Kemp Powers to develop his stage show.
With four iconic men on display at the HOME theatre, Powers chooses to showcase their relaxed conversation in the intimate setting, allowing the idols to share their thoughts and disagreements freely. Although closed doors did nothing to stop these men from speaking their truth to power, the show shines a light on their authentic friendship away from the public eye. Reminding audiences that they were more than entertainers, musicians, athletes and activists. It is not only a chance to see four incredible icons, but to see them removed from their threatening labels. It is a freedom rarely accosted to black masculinity on screen or stage, offering each of them moments of vulnerability and strength.
As each fought tirelessly to better themselves and establish equality within their respected fields, the production attempts to glimpse at their differences in approach. Matt Henry (Sam Cooke), Christopher Colquhoun (Malcolm), Miles Yekinni (Jim Brown) and Conor Glean (Cassius Clay) embody the spirit of the gang in a convincing and engaging performance despite their static staging. Their passion is on display, including conversations that explain their political message for social change through music, film and sport. As each shares their impactful contributions to the Civil Rights movement, audiences are reminded that merely sharing their talents in the segregated 60s was a dangerous and personal responsibility.
As a result, director Matthew Xia ensures that even the stage is unable to contain their personalities. Breaking out of its boxed hotel environment, to engulf the audience in blinding stage lighting and allowing Cooke to jump down into the audience to offer a soulful serenading to a lucky few.
The show looks back at that moment in time to highlight the bigger picture these men could envision, with Henry’s performance of A Change Is Going To Come ringing in the audience's ears from the moment he had finished. The song, released after Cooke’s death in 1964, remains as relevant and haunting to hear in 2019. As the fight for equality continues, One Night In Miami offers a beautiful show shaped by friendship and struggle, that forces audiences to question what we are doing with the legacy of these iconic men.