David Johnson, Richard Lukunku and Sne Dladla in One Night in Miami. Picture: Supplied

One Night in Miami is showing as a part of Black History Month at the Market Theatre. The production, written by American playwright Kemp Powers, is about four friends who would later become some of the most influential black men in their various fields of sport, politics and entertainment. 

This is a fictional account of a real night, February 25, 1964, that brings together 22-year-old, newly crowned world boxing champion Cassius Clay as he was about to transform into Muhammad Ali, controversial Nation of Islam leader/mentor Malcolm X, influential singer-songwriter and record producer Sam Cooke and star NFL footballer Jim Brown. 

The men celebrate Clay’s surprise title win over Sonny Liston in a Miami hotel room, watched over by Nation of Islam security.

I’d been looking forward to seeing what the Market Theatre’s James Ngcobo does with this script. I was also attracted by seeing a line-up of some people I consider the country’s finest young black male actors. And the subject matter of the production was enough to get me interested.

I must say, however, that while I can imagine how challenging it must be for actors to put on accents, I often find them terribly disturbing. This is not to say Iris Dawn Parker, who worked as a voice coach in this case, did not do a good job - because she did, the cast sounded convincing, but it really does throw me off.

The subject matter of the production is heavy. It’s politically charged and sprinkled with some chuckle-worthy moments, but the production is very wordy.

One of my favourite moments was when Sne Dladla would burst out into song and dance. His performance of Change Gonna Come moved me beyond words.

Don’t get me wrong, the play makes some very important commentary on the role that people of influence, sports stars and musicians had in the liberation struggle. And how they chose to use their art. This could probably be an important discussion to have with contemporary influencers and artists, too - which marks the current significance of the production.

Otherwise, the gentlemen are a dream to watch. Tsipa has an infectious energy about him as he steps into the shoes of Ali. David Johnson gets the intensity of MalcolmX, while Dladla has the charisma that I imagine Cooke had. Sipho Zakwe and Nyaniso Dzedze are hilarious as the two overzealous bodyguards assigned to Malcolm X.

Despite the play being wordy in parts, I enjoyed it.

* One Night in Miami is on until February 25.

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