Center Stage artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah is sharing in accolades for the U.K. premiere of "One Night in Miami," Kemp Powers' play about Cassius Clay (soon to be known as Muhammad Ali), Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown.
The production at London's Donmar Warehouse, which opened Tuesday, was directed by British-born Kwei-Armah, who also guided the excellent East Coast of premiere of "One Night in Miami" at Center Stage in 2015.
In The Guardian's four-star (out of five) review, Michael Billington wrote that "Kwei-Armah's production is outstandingly acted" and found that, despite "obvious dramatic weaknesses" in the play, "it is still stirring to hear the path to racial progress being argued with such passion and presented with such fervour on a British stage."
A review in The Independent likewise bestowed four out of five stars for the show. Reviewer Paul Taylor described "One Night in Miami" as "rich and fascinating" and praised Kwei-Armah's "assured, superlatively well-cast production."
Both reviews addressed the timeliness of the racial issues addressed in the play, as did Kwei-Armah in a sobering essay he penned for The Guardian last week. The director recounted the impact that recent police shootings of black men in Tulsa, Okla., and Charlotte, N.C., had on the cast during rehearsals.
"It was impossible to avoid the parallels of then and now," Kwei-Armah wrote. "Each of the characters [in the play] had lived through the kind of systemic inequalities that make or break you. Far from being broken, these men had soared."
That night "in Malcolm X's segregated hotel room," Kwei-Armah continued, the four were "negotiating how to serve. How to contribute. How to not be set apart from the community but help to elevate it."
After referencing Colin Kaepernick's protests during the national anthem and other contemporary "acts of defiance," Kwei-Armah described the men in "One Night in Miami" as being involved in "future-scoping," "owning their todays while shaping their tomorrows."
The director asked: "Who are these people today? And what might they be thinking about? What ideas are exciting those people?"
Kwei-Armah finished the essay optimistic, after an intense week of rehearsals, that the production would "speak to the young people" who attend "One Night in Miami" and show them "a way to not let them ignore the realities of today, but not be bound in the agonies of them."
In addition to "One Night in Miami," the director will lead another U.K. premiere: "One Love: The Bob Marley Musical." This work, written and directed by Kwei-Armah, will be staged at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, in association with Playful Productions and Stage Play Limited, opening March 10.