LOS ANGELES — Now playing at the Rogue Theater through July 28 is “One Night in Miami…”, which imagines a hotel room confab between Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, and Cassius Clay.
Based on the real-life events of February 25, 1964, the 22-year-old Clay had just defied expectations, beating Sonny Liston to be named world heavyweight champion.
First-time playwright Kemp Powers gives a fly-on-the-wall account of a debate between Cooke (Ty Jones) and Malcolm X (Jason Delane), who accuses the singer of selling out to white audiences instead of dedicating his talents to the Civil Rights movement.
“All the men make these really cogent arguments,” actor Kevin Daniels, who plays Brown, told radio station KPFK. “Sometimes, it’s oh yeah, what Malcolm is saying is absolutely right, you need to do more. And then it’s like, what Sam is saying is absolutely right. He’s got this. What Cassius is saying is we need less swag. We need to do something with purpose. What Jim is saying is no, y’all need to just shut up and eat!”
Ty Jones who, as Cooke, sings two numbers in the play, rushed to his character’s defense. “This is a man who was way before his time in terms of the music industry,” he said. “He owned his own masters, a lot of white artists didn’t do that back in those days. This was a man before there was Berry Gordy.”
Malcolm X attributed Clay’s victory that night to divine intervention, prompting the fighter’s conversion to Islam and a name change to Muhammad Ali by the time the sun came up.
“I read his autobiography by author Alex Haley and I did my research, but one thing I hadn’t done was listen to his speeches,” Delane told KPFK. “To imagine him as a man, a father, a son, an uncle, a brother, a man. I do believe he invented and reinvented himself several times. But he also dedicated his life to Elijah Muhammad, and that’s kind of a jumping off point for our play.”
“One Night in Miami…”, which is making its world premier at the Rogue Theater, can be seen on Friday and Saturday nights, and in a matinee performance on Sunday.