The Source for Media Coverage of The Arts in Miami.
Articles, reviews, previews and features on dance and music performances and events.
Sign Up
No one logged in. Log in

Artburst Portal

‘Kings of Harlem’ Inaugurates M Ensemble’s New Home


Photo: Photo Credit: DEBORAH GRAY MITCHELL
Written by: Christine Dolen
Article Rating

Mention the Harlem Renaissance, and those who know their history would be able to tell you a little or a lot about that vibrant period in New York’s black social and cultural life.

But bring up the New York Renaissance – also known as the Renaissance Big Five or the Rens – and you’d be likely to stump anyone who isn’t steeped in basketball lore.

Playwright and director Layon Gray shares the story of an extraordinary team in his play “Kings of Harlem,” in part because of his belief that (as he has one of his characters remark twice) “… history has the right to live.”

Now in its 46th season, Miami’s M Ensemble is presenting “Kings of Harlem” as the first production in its new home at the $5.6 million Sandrell Rivers Theater. Located in the Audrey M. Edmonson Transit Village on NW Seventh Avenue near I-95, the handsome, state-of-the art facility is also home to Fantasy Theatre Factory, which operates the theater. The main space is a flexible black-box theater, configured by M Ensemble set and lighting designer Mitchell Ost for this show to look like a basketball court, with the 124 audience members seated along the sides.

Staged with powerful simplicity by the playwright, “Kings of Harlem” uses projections of historical photos along with narration by actor Ray Lockhart to provide context and facts about the remarkable all-black pro team, which was founded several years before the better-known Harlem Globetrotters. Set during the Rens’ groundbreaking championship run in 1938-39, the play also pays homage to the team’s home in Harlem’s black-owned-and-operated Renaissance Casino and Ballroom, where dancing would follow the games.

What transforms “Kings of Harlem” from a simple history lesson into a compelling play are the scenes involving the team, the flesh-and-blood humor, conflict and inspiring story brought to life by the actors portraying the players and their determined coach.

As Edwin “Pops” Coffey, Allan Lewis is a motivator similar to any number of real-life and fictional coaches. This fine, accomplished actor conveys both discipline and warmth, as well as compassion for an angry young player whose life was shaped by unspeakable tragedy.

Marquise Rogers plays that young man, Clem Johnson, orphaned in Florida at the age of 8 when his parents were horrifically lynched in front of his eyes during the Rosewood Massacre.As the team’s veteran star Jimmy “JoJo” Robinson, André L. Gainey is a man who takes a paternal interest in Clem because of a tragedy of his own. The testy dynamic between the would-be mentor and the furious, damaged younger man is the emotional heart of “Kings of Harlem.”

The other actors, to a man, capture the distinctive qualities of their characters: Chris Boldon as the garrulous, likeable Nat Dozier; Isaac Beverly as Leroy Amos and Stevenson Jean as Dee Dee Witt, teammates at odds over a woman; Scott Wesley as the chiseled, quiet Howard Nash. Costume designer Peter A. Lovello has created a series of vintage uniforms for the performers, though their 21st century underwear (visible during quick onstage changes) doesn’t help maintain the period illusion.

Oh, and did we mention that these guys can shoot? LeBron James and Steph Curry don’t need to lose sleep, but the actors don’t miss many baskets. Gray has them do fast-paced drills and, even more memorably, rhythmically bounce basketballs in a melding of sport and dance.

From the team’s founding in 1923 to its folding in 1949, the Rens won 2,588 games and lost 539, at one point winning 88 consecutive games. In 1963, the Rens were inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar explored the Rens and their legacy in his 2007 book “On the Shoulders of Giants.” “Kings of Harlem,” though more modest in scale, is both moving and enlightening – and an impressive way for M Ensemble to launch the newest chapter in its long history.

‘Kings of Harlem’ by Layon Gray, M Ensemble production at the Sandrell Rivers Theater, 6101 NW Seventh Ave., Miami; 8:00 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3:00 p.m. Sunday, through Jan. 29; tickets $25 ($20 students and seniors); 786-773-3161 or www.themensemble.com.

 


Leave a comment...
Must be Logged in
No one logged in. Log in
Leave a comment...
Was this helpful?
No Very

Captcha Image

About The writer

{module_webapps,16730,i,{tag_writer_id}}

It is an awe-inspiring experience to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancers perform. They are well trained dancers, athletes and artists. Not often known is that some of the dance..

Back for an 8th season in Miami, the legendary Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater packs the house every year. With Liberty City hometown hero Robert Battle in his fifth year, we have many rea..

Awash in sunlight, around 50 women stand in a circle on the rooftop performance space of Casa Gaia in Old Havana, Cuba, as part of a belly-dance festival. Biodanza facilitator Karen Rodríguez..

Choreographer Jeanguy Saintus works primarily from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, but his creative work has global appeal. He is a pioneering artist who blends Haiti’s traditional music and dance alo..

New life for a legacy ballet—a veritable choreographer-magnet—created a great buzz about Miami City Ballet’s third program this season. But at the Arsht Center for the Performing ..

Who doesn’t delight in fairies? Miami City Ballet, for the success of its third program of the season, is certainly banking on one. And, instead of wielding a magic wand, she comes eager to p..

Transgendered performance artist Scott Turner Schofield is a collector of stories. Growing up in the South, the tales that were told about the gay and trans community were the ugliest kind of..

The Miami Theater Center in Miami Shores is giving experimental dancer-choreographer Lazaro Godoy the opportunity to interweave his visual arts and performance passions in ArMOUR, a multimedi..

The Aspen Santa Fe Ballet artistic director Tom Mossbrucker and executive director Jean-Philippe Malaty have thrilled audiences world wide with stimulating and exciting performances, and Miam..

The future came a long time ago. That impression arose in two forward-pointing yet decades-old company premieres on Miami City Ballet’s second program of the season. In the opening performanc..

Tigertail’s ScreenDance Miami festival is now in its fourth year. One of the few festivals in the country dedicated solely to movement for film and video, ScreenDance aims high. The goal: a f..

The white walls and well-trod floor of a light-pierced studio at Miami City Ballet enclose a charmed space—a field of incalculable energy—as sets of coupled dancers rehearse, in q..

Myth has it that a Cuban who doesn’t dance is a rare creature. Like the endangered Florida panther, you could live an entire lifetime without ever sighting one. “We come from a dancing island..

Chorographer and educator Daniel Lewis has only taken two weeks’ vacation since he retired as the Dean of the Dance Department at New World School of the Arts five years ago. “Even then, I wo..

Never at a loss for words, artistic director Peter Londondescribes what has compelled him to undertake two powerhouse pieces of music for his newest performance venture of the Peter London Gl..

What happens to old dances? Do they slowly disappear as choreographers and dancers move on to other projects? This may well be the case unless an effort is made to revive the piece-- reconstr..

Miami-based choreographer Ana Mendez has been producing original and accomplished work in Miami for years. This December, she is closing out 2016 with a Grass Stains commissioned work set at ..

Blessed by good parentage and nurturing support, a hale and hearty ballet company has just been born in South Florida. Under the direction of Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg and Carlos Miguel Gue..

Tango, one of the most democratic forms of music and dance, grew out of the diverse working class neighborhoods of Buenos Aires in the late 1800s. The rich blending of different cultures mixe..

Seattle-based choreographer Pat Graney started working on her newest project Girl Gods in 2012. It is the second installment of a triptych that began with her 2008 project House of Mind. Yet ..

Jose Limon’s (1908- 1972) vision still endures and the company he founded is now in its 70th year -- a tribute to the man and the artist, and those who believe in his gifts. He did not set ou..

Choreographer Michael Clark's soundscapes aren't the usual -- he uses the music of the punk poets David Bowie and Patti Smith and early 20th century avant-garde French composer Erik Satie. He..

Flamenco performer Francisco Hidalgo, whose surname means “nobleman,” brought a bygone era of dignity and grace to life on the stage of the Miami-Dade County Auditorium in early November, in ..

I first saw the flamenco dancer Celia Fonta perform with her husband, Spanish guitarist and singer, Paco, some 20 years ago at Café Miro, a small Spanish tapas bar on Espanola Way in South B..

For many people it’s hard to imagine Miami without a vibrant art scene, but in 1987 Miami was just beginning its journey towards becoming a major hub for the arts, and New World School of the..

Silencio. Silence. In the words of choreographer and flamenco artist Francisco Hidalgo “dance rests on the beats of silence.” Los Silencios del Baile is making its U.S. and world preview this..

Reflecting on the brutal treatment she receives at the hands of Juliana Triviño, who plays her torturer in the October 28 Alma Dance Theater (ADT) production of “Cask,” fellow principal danc..

Seduced by the jazz in his dad’s music collection, a kid from Perth, Western Australia, takes up the saxophone at age 13. He grows up, moves to the United States and becomes a star. Dreams do..

Half way through his set at the North Beach Bandshell, singerDavid Crosby (http://www.davidcrosby.com/), 75, who has been to a festival or two in his illustrious career, paused between songs..

Florida in February has its own magic: gorgeous light, cooler temperatures, clear skies and soft sea breezes. Now, imagine those breezes carrying the moaning strains of Esperanza Spalding’s b..

“Heaven sends us habits in place of happiness,” two women of a certain age observe in a famous line from Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin. Yet the new Florida Grand Opera production makes th..

Nikolaj Znaider played in an orchestra for the first time at the age of nine, two years after he began to study violin. He still remembers the sense of discovery, as he listened to the childr..

Sun-drenched it is, but Miami is sound-drenched as well. Parrots screech complaints from the Grove’s canopy of palms. I-95 is a perpetual sound lab of squeaking brakes, tires rubbing asphalt ..

Flamenco and jazz have had a fitful relationship. The early, tentative approaches — such as the notable Sketches of Spain (1960) by Miles Davis and Gil Evans or Jazz Flamenco (1967) by ..

Creating music from car horns and bicycles and other non-instruments isn't new. Composer and conceptualist John Cage waxed poetic about traffic noise saying that there is a way "to capture an..

South Florida music lovers have a rare chance to see a homegrown star in concert - and there’s no admission charge. Bobby Thomas Jr., described by jazz legend Melton Mustafa as “the badde..

Desde Las troyanas de Eurípides hasta “Guernica” de Picasso, o de la canción “Blowing in the Wind” de Bob Dylan al diseño de las gorras rosadas que llevaron miles de mujeres en las protestas ..

En un discurso de 1977, el escritor argentino Jorge Luis Borges desmintió la idea de que la ceguera fuera un mundo de oscuridad cuando describió su propia “modesta ceguera”. Hablaba de ciert..

En su discurso de recibimiento del Premio Nobel, el poeta chileno Pablo Neruda afirmó que el poeta no es un "pequeño dios." De hecho expresó que el mejor poeta “es el hombre que nos entrega e..

En la cultura yoruba, y sobre todo en sus manifestaciones caribeñas como la afrocubana, las historias contadas oralmente por generaciones ocupan un lugar esencial. Esas historias, muchas de e..

En la serie artística Out in the Tropics, la tarima no discrimina, la sensibilidad de los intérpretes es inclusiva y todo público es bienvenido. Producción de la entidad local sin fines d..

El flamenco es una música de fusión. La tradición es de sobrevivencia, de cambio constante y adaptación al lugar y los tiempos. Mientras el sonido puede ser diferente, el espíritu de Nuevo Fl..

La problemática del cambio climático está que arde. Sobre todo en un estado como la Florida, en primera fila para sufrir consecuencias drásticas. Llegar al público con este mensaje e inspirar..

La música tiende puentes, y por más de media década ya, dos entidades artístico culturales del sur de la Florida, FUNDarte (http://fundarte.us/fundarte_event.php?id=221) y Miami Light Project..

La colaboración del pianista cubano de jazz Gonzalo Rubalcaba y la cantaora flamenca española Esperanza Fernández junta a dos artistas de primera línea en sus respectivos géneros sin miedo d..