Articles: "One Night In Miami" Takes Denver Audiences Back In Time




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By Laurence Washington
Photos Courtesy of Jennifer M. Koskinen

Malcolm X (Jason Delane) councils Cassius Clay (Colby Lewis)

Everybody loves a “What if” scenario.

So what if you travel back to Feb. 25, 1964 Miami, Fla. and you’re with newly crowned boxing champion Cassius Clay, football legend Jim Brown, R&B singer Sam Cooke and human rights activist Malcolm X, the night Clay wins the heavyweight title from Sonny Liston?

Well, you don’t have to imagine that scenario in playwright Kemp Powers play “One Night in Miami” – a fictional reimagining of Clay, Brown and Cooke meeting at the Hampton House Hotel to celebrate the Champ’s victory.

Currently playing at the Space Theatre in the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex, Powers intense script offers an intimate journey into what could have happened had the trio met that night, and what might have been.

The play is only 90 minutes long – but what a 90 minutes! Poignant, but never preachy, funny but never lite, the ringside in-the-round performance leaves the audience drained, but wanting to answer the bell for extra rounds.

Cassius Clay (Colby Lewis) demonstrates to Jim Brown (Morocco Omari)
how he beat Sonny Liston

The crux of the play underlines Cassius Clay’s decision to join the National of Islam, thus changing his name to Muhammad Ali -- a move that shocked the boxing world and media. Clay, brilliantly played by Colby Lewis, surprises Brown (Morocco Omari) and Cooke (Nik Walker) with his decision before informing the press. Cooke and Brown are taken back at first, but are supportive of their friend who is guided by Malcolm X (Jason Delane).

Despite his black awareness, Brown tells Clay that he can never join the Nation, because he loves his grandmother’s pork chops and white women. Cooke adds he's not willing to give up his promiscuous lifestyle that runs counter to strict Nation beliefs.

York Walker and William Oliver Watkins as Nation of Islam bodyguards, Jamal and Kareem, add an air of authenticity to the setting. Lewis delivers artful banter worthy of Ali, and Walker’s smooth renditions of Cooke’s classic songs "You Send Me, "Chain Gang" and others punctuate the play. But it’s Jason Delane’s Malcolm X (who is on the outs with Elijah Muhammad) that adds thoughtfulness and insight to the proceedings. The audience can't help but compare racism 52 years ago to today’s racially tense headlines. The more things change, the more things stay the same resonates throughout this terrific play. Leaving the theatre one can't help but wonder...What if?

What: One Night in Miami
Where: The Space Theatre in the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex, 14th and Curtis streets
Play Date: Through April 19.
Cost: $41-$58
Phone: 303-893-4100


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