BALTIMORE, January 29, 2015 – What makes Center Stage unique among the region’s best theater venues is the inventive use of its multifaceted space to totally immerse each theater goer in the theme and texture of the current play. For the staging of “One Night in Miami,” the Center Stage lobby has been transformed into the period-authentic entrance to the Miami Convention Center, complete with palm trees, period furnishings, publications and vintage photos of the great celebrities of the turbulent and soulful ‘60s.
I was pleasantly surprised by the unexpected pre-fight hype, as the lobby entrance to the first floor Pearlstone Theater was transformed into a virtual center ring where fight announcer Tyrone Requer introduced under-card contender Ed “Hitman” Harlin and conducted a pre-fight weigh-in.
To further get the crowd in a festive mood, warm up entertainment was provided by an Etta James look and sound alike – Sontoya Tiana. She’d come to Baltimore all the way from Murfreesboro, Tennessee to audition for this cameo part. Winning it was a big plus for her in the audience, which she quickly proved when she laid down a mean version of “At Last.”
Surrounding the incoming audience was a CS Digital display that provided an interactive touchscreen journey into the lives of Soul Man Sam Cooke, Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown, Nation of Islam Minister Malcolm X, and 22 year old Cassius “I Am the Greatest” Clay before his conversion to Islam.
The digital images were enhanced and complimented by an array of black and white photos of Chitlin Circuit performers from that era such as Jackie Wilson and the sports heroes of segregated America, such as the Brown Bomber Joe Lewis and baseball great Jackie Robinson. The photo montage complemented the art deco furniture, part of the decor of a picture perfect re-creation of the Hampton House hotel interior, complete with side tables filled with Ebony magazines and Miami newspapers from the period.
No detail was left to the imagination, as even the most restless attendees could take their turn at shadow boxing with an imaginary Muhammad Ali in a silhouetted screen behind the main event center ring.
And did I mention that Center Stage has the best opening night After Parties of any regional playhouse? In keeping with the soul music theme, a smoking DJ laid down a selection of 1960s period music from Aretha Franklin to Stevie Wonder, causing the youthful and exuberant crowd to form a spontaneous Soul Train Line and party the night away.
Bottom line: When you order your tickets to “One Night in Miami,” don’t expect just a passive sit down reserved seat. Look forward instead to a total Fight Night experience as Center Stage transports you to Miami’s Hampton House Hotel, comfortably situated on the wrong side of the tracks, for a soul-stirring night on the town.
Critic Malcolm Lewis Barnes gives “One Night in Miami” a big 4 stars. For tickets and information on this current Center Stage production, here are the particulars:
Performances of “One Night in Miami” run through February 8, 2015 at Baltimore’s Center Stage.
Approximate running time: 1 hour and 20 minutes, with no intermission.
For tickets, information and directions: Visit centerstage.org or call them at 410-332-0033.