This year marks 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. Late composer and actor Martin Smith debuted his musical, King, in the Prince Edward Theatre, 1988.
The show highlighted the life of Martin Luther King and was performed for one night only. An independent theatre in Hackney, Hackney Empire, and director, Susie McKenna, brought this shelved show to life in a special two-day showing – June 30th and July 1st.
The show was advertised all over social media. As soon as I saw the above banner I was intrigued. I called my mum and asked if she would come with me. She was excited as I was. Initially, when booking the show, I did not realise it would be solely music (silly, I know, it does say concert in the title). When the conductor introduced the performance and announced there would be no props or acting, just a musical performance, my eyes shot up. I wondered how long it would be before I drifted to sleep. Nonetheless, once the music began, my eyes did not leave the stage. As the convert went on I started to get chills from the music – or at least I thought it was that, it also could have the cold Magners in my hand.
The performance featured a live orchestra (London Musical Theatre Orchestra), led by Freddie Tapner, a choir, individual singers, and a remarkable use of lighting; together they conveyed the story of Civil Rights activist, Martin Luther King, Jr. Alongside King’s accomplishments and story, the issues African Americans suffered in the 20th century was illustrated ardently with the use of still images and real footage, such as the Selma to Montgomery March 1965, as well as clips of the Ku Klux Klan. Combined with harmonies, solo-performances, and instrumentals, the show told this exceptional man’s story in an exceptional way.
The cast consisted of main players in the Civil Rights Movement: MLK, Coretta King, Alberta King (Martin’s mother), Ed Nixon, Freedom Riders, Rosa Parks, President Kennedy, President Hoover, President Kennedy, and Stokeley Carmicheal. Alongside these positively noticeable names, were lesser favourable characters, for example, Bull Connor, the Commissioner of Public Safety for the city of Birmingham, Alabama – this man opposed all Civil Rights activities taking place in his state and the rest of America.
The events featured in the show looked at exasperating parts of African American history. Within the first act, the audience saw photographs of lynched men, an act that saw more than 300 men victim to in the state of Alabama from 1877 to 1943. Issues such as sexual harassment and assault of African American women by white men was addressed, alongside racial subjection, and the bombing of King’s home, with his wife and daughter inside, in 1956. Every song carried such emotion and it was impossible to not feel the pain carried by those who suffered through this awful period in time.
This unique, captivating show left the audience enticed from beginning to end, inducing heart-rending emotions and lengthy applause. It is mind-boggling that this is not a West End show currently, as it more than deserves to be. To find out more about this extraordinary concert visit Hackney Empire’s YouTube channel.