KING: Hackney Empire, London
Reviewed 30th June 2018
2018 marks 50 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King and the musical, KING, has been revived for two concert performances of the acclaimed show. The show itself was only performed once, 30 years ago, at the Prince Edward Theatre but when the writer, Martin Smith, tragically died a few years later the show was put on the shelf. Until this weekend…
Hackney Empire and the London Musical Theatre Orchestra have worked together to bring this show back to the forefront. With a talented cast of West End stars including Cedric Neal, Sharon D. Clarke and Debbie Kurup, KING is directed by Susie McKenna with new orchestrations by Simon Nathan. The concert also features Hackney Empire’s renowned Community Choir, directed by Joseph Roberts.
This musical deserves to be heard! With the ever-increasingly popular musicals telling the stories of well-known artists from Michael Jackson to Carole King, Cilla Black to Dusty Springfield. This is a real story. A story that is still relevant to todays society and with an exceptional score like this, it must be made into a full scale production.
The entire cast are exceptional, especially considering the lack of rehearsal time. Despite the presence of folders containing music they are hardly referred to and although it is a concert style show the acting through song and during the transitions are as good as any London stage. This show has heart and truly makes the audience feel positive and empowered. Whilst there have been major improvements in racism and segregation since Martin Luther King, it is still a prevalent problem in today’s society, possibly even more so in the fractured USA states. For this reason, amongst many, this is a show which certainly needs to be shared. The struggle for equality is an important topic and this musical tackles it face on.
The variety of music is diverse and the a cappella sections sung in harmony are divine. The large ensemble pieces are powerful and rousing. While the choir themselves do not especially add anything to do the show when they join in for these group numbers it really adds to the momentum and feeling of the song. The tunes are catchy and memorable. There are certainly a few songs which will stay with audience members well after they have left the auditorium.
Cedric Neal was perfect as Martin Luther King himself. He has outstanding vocals and a confidence and subtle self-doubt that surely the great man himself would have felt. Debbie Kurup excels as Coretta, Martin’s wife, her vocals are pitch-perfect and the low tone to her voice adds depth to the numbers. Calvin Cornwall, who was also in the 1988 original performance of KING, has a gloriously deep, rich tone which adds something extra to the show. All of the cast are extremely talented and sing with heart and passion.
The use of real photos and videos from the time of Martin Luther King is a fantastic concept. It makes the show itself feel more relatable and relevant. It’s easy to forget just how awful these times were and to have it staring back at you on a large screen is definitely a shocking sight which just heightens the importance of what Martin Lither King and his followers fought for.
This performance of KING is spectacular and in an age where celebrities are praised and treated like heroes it is nice to see a show dedicated to a real hero. A man who put others first. Who did all they could for what he believed in and stopped at nothing to make life equal for all. This show deserves to be seen. It needs to be made into a full-scale production and I will certainly be buying tickets the moment that it does!
KING is at Hackney Empire Theatre on 30th June and 1st July 2018 only. Tickets are available here.