MLK, redefined as a politician in new Broadway play

Left to right: Michael McKean, Bryan Cranston, Brandon J. Dirden in All the Way/ Photo credit: Evgenia Eliseeva
Left to right: Michael McKean, Bryan Cranston, Brandon J. Dirden in All the Way/ Photo credit: Evgenia Eliseeva

On the “A” w/Souleo…

Pandit Chitresh Das and  Jason Samuels Smith/Photo Credit: Antara Bhardwaj
Pandit Chitresh Das and Jason Samuels Smith/Photo Credit: Antara Bhardwaj

As the nation prepares to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on January 20, actor Brandon J. Dirden hopes that people will not only remember King as a powerful reverend and activist, but also as an astute politician. Dirden portrays King in the forthcoming Broadway play, All the Way, which begins previews on February 10. The political drama is an inside look at the first years of Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency and his determination to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. According to Dirden, passage of that legislation could not have happened without King’s political skills, despite never having run for office and declining to endorse a political party.

“He was an extraordinary politician to deal with presidents and senators to get civil rights laws in place,” said Dirden. “He also had to deal with organizations in the civil rights movement like The Southern Christina Leadership Conference and the NAACP and keep them together because they had different agendas. In the play we see him maneuvering like a real politician.”

Dirden’s discovery of King’s political side not only helped him find a new angle to explore in his portrayal of the icon, but it also influenced his perspective on today’s politically divided climate where lack of bipartisanship has led to 73% of Americans disapproving of Congress. “What Dr. King tried to impress upon people who wanted all equal rights now was that we will get it eventually, but let’s prioritize what we really want now. He knew that without political compromise there is no progress. The political landscape in 2014 is seeing republicans and democrats who will not give an inch. People are upset with President Obama for being too passive and soft but he understands that it happens in steps.”

One of King’s most urgent messages was the need to build coalitions across various cultures. In the documentary “Upaj: Improvise” this lesson is embodied through the artistic collaboration of 26-year-old African-American tap star Jason Samuels Smith and 62-yer-old Indian Kathak guru Pandit Chitresh Das. The film follows Smith and Das as they spin, tap, twirl and twist to create “Indian Jazz Suites,” a fusion of tap, the Indian classical dance form of Kathak, live music, call-and-response and lots of improvisation. The project directed by Hoku Uchiyama premieres January 20 as part of the sixth season of “AfroPop: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange,” hosted by actor Anthony Mackie.

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Souleo

The column, On the “A” w/Souleo, covers the intersection of the arts, culture entertainment and philanthropy in Harlem and beyond and is written by Souleo, founder and president of arts administration company, Souleo Enterprises LLC.





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