Theater and Martin Luther King

Now that it’s January 2017, I was wondering what kind of stage shows featured Martin Luther King.  There are a few ranging from full scale theatrical productions to informational kids plays.  Here’s a quick look at a few of these.

mountaintop-poster-651x1024The Mountaintop

The Mountaintop is a play by American playwright Katori Hall. It is a fictional depiction of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night on earth set entirely in Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel on the eve of his assassination in 1968.  The play initially failed to find a venue in the US but premiered in London at the 65-seat Theatre503. After critical acclaim and a sell-out run the play transferred to the Trafalgar Studios in the West End. The production was directed by James Dacre and featured British actors David Harewood and Lorraine Burroughs. Harewood was nominated for Best Actor in the Evening Standard and Whatsonstage Awards and Burroughs for Best Actress in the Olivier Awards. The production won the Olivier Best New Play Award and was nominated for Whatsonstage Awards and Most Promising Playwright in the Evening Standard Awards.

The Independent wrote that the production at Theatre 503 was “an imaginative portrayal” and shows “a relationship that is breathtaking, hilarious and heart-stopping in its exchanges and in its speedy ability to reveal character and pull the audience into the ring.”  Theater critic Charles Spencer in The Daily Telegraph wrote of the production at Trafalgar Studios “It is a beautiful and startling piece, beginning naturalistically before shifting gear into something magical, spiritual and touching.”

Moments With Dr. King

Per Playbill, this play, press notes state, “provides factually-based slices of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from December 1955 until April 1968.  Written by Eric Falkenstein and produced by close confidants Ambassador Andrew Young and Congressmen John Lewis, it depicts widely-known historic events as well as more private behind-the-scenes moments.” A cast of more than 20 will offer “close-up examinations of Dr. King’s interactions and relationships with Coretta Scott King, other family members, associates, officials and adversaries.”  The production secured permission from the King estate to make use of portions of speeches, writings, recordings and other property of the King family.

mlk-small-e1407234412939Life & Death of MLK—America: Dreams & Nightmares

In the years following his “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King saw his liberal allies in government desert him, his own staff question him, and more radical activists berate him over his beliefs and principles.

Written and directed by Paul Stebbings, produced by Grantly Marshal, and music by John Kenny, this play explores how this came about, following the spiritual and political journey of this once humble preacher to the status of icon and, tragically, martyr. And this is the stuff of tragedy because Martin Luther King was man torn by inner demons and wracked with guilt; a man who lived by the creed of non-violence and saw his supporters savagely beaten, wrongfully imprisoned, humiliated and all too often murdered.

Skin Deep:  Story of Martin Luther King

This is a short, simple, easy to produce, yet electrifying dramatization of the main events in Martin Luther King’s life as leader of the American Civil Rights movement. Skin Deep illumines the attitudes of white racists without mocking them, and highlights the challenge of black activists to remain non-violent.  SKIN DEEP was originally produced in a church in Kitchener, Ontario in 1985. Martin Luther King’s eldest daughter, Yolanda, was present for the occasion and later addressed a city-wide ecumenical gathering.

We Are the Dream

This is a play about Martin Luther King’s life specifically written for schools and churches.  It uses easy language for young students to learn.  It’s about 45 minutes long.  You can use a cast of all children.  You can mix generations.  You can add or subtract lines and music as you see fit.  It was meant to be an easy production to promote confidence and team spirit while keeping the action moving and everyone involved throughout the play.

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