KING: THE MUSICAL (LMTO) | London, Hackney Empire

The London Musical Theatre Orchestra (LMTO) and a stellar cast have revived this unknown, thirty-year-old musical about the life of Martin Luther King (Cedric Neal) for a concert performance.

Performed only once in 1988 and then shelved, Martin Smith’s writing is nevertheless outstanding.  Simon Nathan’s new orchestrations (for full orchestra) bring out the wide musical scope of the score, with sentimental, Disney-renaissance-esque strings and plaintive oboe one moment, bombastic brass the next, and then maybe a burst of banjo and xylophone.  A remarkably assured and utterly versatile 22-strong LMTO pounded their way through the score, led with charm and panache by conductor Freddie Tapner.  The strength of the cast also ensured that every song hit its mark.

The book, however, lacks nuance, and nowhere is this clearer than in the two “villain” songs, with J. Edgar Hoover (Clive Carter) revealing his devilish scheme to undo the civil rights movement, and anti-civil rights politician Bull Connor (John Barr) roaring through an entire song simply titled, “I’m Bad”.

In every other way, though, this was a dizzying musical experience, and an emotionally charged one.  The standing ovation started during the finale, and I have never heard a crowd go more wild in a theatre during the bows: this is an absolute blockbuster smash.  An amazing find (especially for remembering fifty years since King’s assassination), an amazing performance, and a fully staged revival is surely in order; the audience were literally screaming for it.

RATING: ★★★★★

Check out the LMTO website for more upcoming performances.

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