T&T's Anthony gives KO performance

T&T's Anthony gives KO performance

Observer senior writer

Sunday, December 02, 2018

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ON the night of February 25 1964, an icon was born. Cassius Clay, a brash 22-year-old boxer from Louisville, Kentucky, beat world champion Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title at Miami Beach Convention Center.

It was euphoria inside the ring and venue, but outside Clay was just another black man in segregated America. Because of Florida's Jim Crow laws, the new champion could not celebrate in affluent Miami; he stayed at the Hampton House in Overtown, a pillar of that city's black community.

The events of that evening are recaptured in One Night in Miami, a 90-minute play starring Trinidadian actor Kieron J Anthony as Clay. It opened October 27 at the Colony Theater in Miami and closed there last week.

In playwright Kemp Powers' fictional account, Clay (who would later become Muhammad Ali) celebrates his victory with three close friends: soul singer Sam Cooke, football player Jim Brown and Nation of Islam firebrand Malcom X. It is Anthony's biggest role to date.

“I was contacted by our director Carl Cofield, who I met while performing at Signature Theatre in New York City, about the role and the project. A couple days after I sent in the self-tape, I was given the great news of booking the gig. It has been an unforgettable experience, not only because of the subject matter or the fact that we got to portray these iconic men, but everyone involved has so much talent and passion for theater, civil rights and storytelling,” Anthony told the Jamaica Observer.

At the time, Clay was the rising star of boxing. Inspired by the teachings of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, he had embraced the Muslim faith and considering a change of lifestyle and name.

A gold medal winner at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Clay was close friends with Cooke and Brown, who were heavily involved in the Civil Rights movement in the United States. He was enthralled by the piercing message of Malcolm X.

For his role as one of the 20th-Century's pivotal figures, Anthony did extensive research.

“I watched as many documentaries I could get my hands on. I listened to his interviews daily and read any book or article I could find. There was extensive table work done as well in the rehearsal room long before we got up on our feet to work the play,” he said. “We were also able to visit the actual Hampton House in Miami which was unforgettable.”

Born in St Augustine, north-west Trinidad, Anthony said he has been “a huge fan” of Muhammad Ali since he was 10 years old because of his godfather, a boxing fanatic. A different sport, athletics, was his first love; a sprinter, he attended the University of Miami where he studied biology and kinesiology.

After graduation, Anthony moved to New York and got into theatre with Atlantic Acting School in Manhattan. He has had roles in television movies such as Hampton 10-10.

Miami-born Cofield has been at the helm of One Night in Miami since it debuted in 2013 in Los Angeles. The current cast has got strong reviews from the South Florida media including David Rolland of the Miami New Timesnewspaper.

“At first, it's jarring to see the actors cast to play these highly photographed figures. Jason Delane is stockier than we're used to seeing Malcolm X, and Kieron Anthony doesn't look much like Clay. But they have such strong acting chops that a few minutes into the play, the fact that none of the four is a dead ringer for his character is forgotten. Anthony portrays Clay's famous overconfidence as a mask for uncertainty, Delane has Malcolm X carrying the weight of the world, Esau Pritchett is as quick with a wisecrack as Brown. Most impressive is Leon Thomas III, whose singing voice and guitar playing pay proper tribute to soul legend Sam Cooke,” Rolland wrote.

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