REVIEW: KING – The Musical by Martin Smith (Hackney Empire) ★★★★★

Martin Smith was a white, Glasgow born actor who died in 1994 at the age of 37. In the mid 80s while still in his 20s, Smith wrote King the Musical, inspired it would appear by simply a great admiration for Martin Luther King Jnr.

This musical, performed in concert at Hackney Empire with the London Musical Theatre Orchestra is, quite simply, extraordinary. The show has had one previous outing – a single night semi-staged version in April 1988 and it is a tragedy that in the intervening 30 years this incredible piece of work has not seen the light of day.

The show starts with Coretta Scott King, brilliantly played by Debbie Kurup, taking to the stage in the moments after King’s assassination; we are then whisked back to their meeting at University and the show takes us through the chronological story of Dr Martin and Coretta King’s lives.

King is played superbly by Cedric Neal. Neal has a fantastic voice and captures the essence of King, delivering some of his sermons to spine-tingling effect. The utterly brilliant Sharon D Clarke plays Alberta, King’s mother. Her solo piece, singing to a young King is beautiful and the only disappointment is that this powerhouse actor does not have a bigger part. Alexander Hanson has a small but powerful cameo as JFK.

The entire cast is absolutely perfect with wonderful voices that are exquisitely backed by The Hackney Empire Community Choir and The Gospel Essence Choir.

The London Musical Theatre Orchestra, founded, and tonight conducted, by Freddie Tapner are flawless.

This is a genius piece of writing and considering it was completed in the late 1980s, is astonishingly fresh. The song “Black Power” delivered by Adam J Bernard as Stockley Carmichael could have come from the pen of Lin-Manuel Miranda.

This is a beautiful and brilliant musical and for it to have never been given a full staging and West End or Broadway run is a travesty. The number of actors, musicians and creatives involved in bringing this piece to the stage for just 2 nights suggests a real labour of love for everyone involved and the performance they have produced is a testament to that love. It deserves to be seen by everyone and everyone deserves the chance to see it.

Reviewed by Kirsty Heath


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