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REVIEW: ‘One Night in Miami’ is a ringside seat to life

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April 8, 2015
By Quincy Snowdon
Courtesy of aurorasentinel.com

Regardless of the degree of controversy, over the course of one, 90-minute act, “Miami” fearlessly wrestles with what was discussed in that south Florida hotel room, leaving no punch pulled, feather unrustled or topic untouched.

DENVER | Imagine Lebron James, Kanye West, Richard Sherman and a politician of your choosing hanging out in a hotel room the night of the Super Bowl, eating vanilla ice cream.

Seriously, though — try it.

Ok, now imagine none of them are tweeting, insta-ing or doing any sort of tin-canned communication with the outside world. It’s an impossibly strange thought, especially for @RSherman_25, but bear with me.

To cap off this terrifically outlandish fever dream of cultural colossuses, imagine that the next day, Sherman announces he’s going to join ISIS.

Huh?


Yeah. It’s a bizarro, friction-laden tangent, but how badly would you want to know what was discussed in that hotel room?

While that hypothetical will foreseeably remain unrealized, Kemp Powers’ “One Night in Miami” at the Denver Center’s Space Theater brilliantly lays into that fly-on-the-wall sentiment with a 1964-version of the aforementioned quartet.

On February 25, 1964, activist Malcolm X, football star Jim Brown, musician Sam Cooke and boxer Cassius Clay all gathered in a hotel room following the 22-year-old Clay’s defeat of Sonny Liston for the Heavyweight Championship of the world. The next day, Clay declared he was changing his name to Muhammad Ali and pledging his allegiance to the Elijah Muhammad-lead Nation of Islam. All that’s known for sure, is that they ate vanilla ice cream.

In the playbill, director Carl Cofield compares Ali’s rescript to Lebron suddenly announcing that he is jetsetting to fight for Al-Qaeda.

Regardless of the degree of controversy, over the course of one, 90-minute act, “Miami” fearlessly wrestles with what was discussed in that south Florida hotel room, leaving no punch pulled, feather unrustled or topic untouched.

From the figurative ring of the bell, the actors behind all four cultural heavyweights glister with gumption while managing to step into their respective personas with daunting accuracy. Fresh off the world premiere of “Miami” in Los Angeles, Jason Delane gives Denzel a run for his money as Malcolm X, harnessing the assassinated activist’s unwavering conviction and profoundly pensive temperament. A heady combination of guttural and irreproachable, Morocco Omari dishes a startlingly deep-seated Jim Brown — a character who almost unwittingly elicits the hardest mouth-covered chortles of the show with a few well-timed expletives.

Standing on the opposite side of righteousness are Colby Lewis as the impudent Clay, who asks aloud more than once, “oh my God, why am I so purdy?” and Nik Walker as the insurmountably self-assured Sam Cooke. Both actors dance expertly around the noted arrogance of their characters, and the inherent, but inadmissible, fear both men had of failure. Lewis’ finest moment comes in the show’s knockout round, and one of the few scenes that unfolds just outside of the modest hotel room set, as he collects himself before departing toward a hungry press corps, shouting, “I told you suckas I was the greatest!” And with an unceasing flow of comedic body blows, Walker more than once steals the show, from taking jabs at the irony of four black men having nothing to eat but vanilla ice cream to his keen hunger for business, as he unblinkingly slithers, “everyone’s saying they want a piece of the pie…I don’t, I want the damn recipe.”

But as impressive as the actors are individually, where “Miami” finds true traction is in the group’s demeanor as a whole. Constant rags on Malcolm’s age, Cooke’s brazenness and Ali’s uncompromising swagger make for a few fleeting moments that feel as if you’re either watching grade-schoolers on the playground, or that maybe, just maybe, they’re your pals, too. And that familiarity — perhaps instilled by decades of carefully crafted sitcoms with carefully inserted laugh tracks — is accomplished through masterful pacing in Powers’ script and the actors’ delivery. Constant pepperings of juvenile jokes and solid physical comedy allevaite any lingering anxiety felt by hotheaded seconds of seriousness with spritely levity — but not before Powers’ messages deliver gut-wrenching haymakers to the audience’s collective conscious.  Throughout the performance, a steady stream of barbs work to rhythmically and expertly break down any preconceived tension and quickly needle the massive, amorphous issues of race and religion. Powers’, Cofield and the entirety of the cast manage to methodically use the jackhammer of comedy to chip and bruise acute cultural bones of contention.

Stilted on the issues of the American perception of both race and Islam, “Miami” could not have been penned or staged at a more appropriate time. And through deft comedic timing and impactful performances, the show successfully pummels pretext and arrives at telling, earnest conclusions that though troubling, are vital to digest. Slap that with a largely Sam Cooke-inspired soundtrack, and “Miami” is too enjoyable and too weighty of a triumph to be missed.

“One Night In Miami”

Runs daily, except for Tuesdays, through April 19. Curtains open at 6:30 p.m. during the week, 7:30 p.m. on weekends and 1:30 p.m. for weekend matinees. All performances will be held at The Space Theatre in the Denver Center for Performing Arts, 1101 13th St., Denver. Call 303-893-4100 for more information. Tickets start at $41.

 

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