Sugar Ray Robinson was pound for pound the greatest boxer of all time. During his 25-year professional career from 1940 to 1965, he was the first winner in boxing history at five division championships (in the middleweight and welterweight divisions). This “King of Harlem” was renowned for his flexibility, power and flamboyant lifestyle outside the ring. His career peaked between 1947 and 1950, before the era of televised boxing, so his style and heritage are less preserved today than those of other boxers, including his admirer, Muhammed Ali. That’s why playwright Laurence Holder’s “Sugar Ray” is so important. He picks up on Robinson’s life and boxing legacy in a biographical solo show that is gripping to those who idolized him and enlightening to those who grew up after his time. The play will be screened January 6-23, 2022 at the Gene Frankel Theater, 24 Bond Street, presented by 24 Bond Arts Center in association with Faith Steps Productions and performed by AUDELCO winner Reginald L. Wilson. The theater’s play area will be transformed into a boxing ring for the production.
Wilson previously performed the show in New York City in 2016 at a site-specific dinner theater at the New Harlem Besame restaurant at 2070 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. This location was the original home of Sugar Ray’s bar / restaurant and business offices in the 1950s and 1960s. Directed by Woodie King Jr., the production received critical acclaim and was visited by notables including Ray Robinson II (the last surviving son of the famous boxer); Jimmy Hayes, member of vocal group The Persuasions; and Johnny Barnes, who played Sugar Ray in “The Raging Bull”.
Mr. Wilson, an ex-Marine, went through a rigorous training program to get into boxing shape for this production. In 2018, he successfully completed a weeklong production workshop in Tallahassee to test the change in style of the show from presentation, with Sugar Ray wearing a pink suit, to storytelling, with Sugar Ray in the ring of boxing wearing trunks, shoes and a hand wraps.
Sugar Ray Robinson was born Walker Smith Jr. and got his first fight bypassing the Amateur Athletic Union age restriction by borrowing a birth certificate from his friend Ray Robinson. Afterwards, he was said to be “sweet as sugar” by a lady in the audience of a fight in Watertown, NY. He won the Golden Gloves featherweight championship in 1939 and his lightweight championship in 1940. Turning a pro, he was the welterweight world champion from 1946 to 1951 and added the world middleweight crown to the top. last year. He retired in 1952, only to return to the ring two and a half years later and continued to fight well beyond his prime, until 1965, in a lifelong struggle to get out of the troubles of the IRS (he never succeeded). He regained the middleweight crown in 1955 and held it, on and off, until 1959. He possessed good mind and physical talent, but his running was used against him, both in boxing and in out. He was deceived and out-traded on handbags and hijacked in his external affairs. Nonetheless, he maintained a staunch integrity as a gladiator, once withholding a million dollar reward from a gangster for fighting “Raging Bull” Jake LaMotta. The sum would have paid his tax bill.
Robinson was the most charismatic athlete of his age and one of the most graceful and handsome men of all time. He was larger than life, idolized by millions of young African Americans. He is the originator of the modern sports entourage, traveling with a golf pro, a barber, an Arab dwarf who spoke five languages and his signature pink Cadillac convertible. Crowds gathered wherever he was parked. During his first retirement, from 1952 to 1955, he pursued a career as a dancer, opening at the French Casino in New York for $ 15,000 per week. After that, showbiz was down for him. WC sports reporter Heinz quoted a Broadway booking agent as saying, “Robinson was a good dancer, for a fighter. Maybe no other fighter danced so well, but the hallmark of his number was his change of clothes. . “Nonetheless,” Sugar “was probably the first black athlete to establish himself as a celebrity outside of sport. He was a staple of New York’s social scene in the 1940s and 1950s and its glamorous restaurant, Sugar Ray’s. , was a destination for Broadway and Hollywood stars.
When Robinson returned to the ring in 55, his physical discipline as a dancer facilitated his comeback by keeping him in good shape. This and his exceptional abilities made his long career possible. He has garnered a staggering 200 career wins, roughly seven times the number of most champions today. He suffered a TKO, but was never knocked out. He could knock out an opponent with either punch while jumping back. Today as then, he is the standard by which all other fighters are measured.
Robinson’s autobiography indicates that despite earning over $ 4 million in and out of the ring, he was dead broke by the time he retired definitively in 1965. He owned most of the West Side Block. from Seventh Avenue, 123rd to 124th Street and he had $ 250,000 tied up in a five story building, the Sugar Ray bar and restaurant, the Edna Mae lingerie store and the Sugar Ray quality cleaners with his five points of sale. He sold all of his properties after his retirement to pay his tax bill. He performed on television and in movies in the 1960s. Towards the end of his public life, in 1969, he founded the Sugar Ray Robinson Youth Foundation to serve the children of downtown Los Angeles. (Interestingly, he doesn’t have a boxing program.) He died in 1989 of Alzheimer’s disease.
AUDELCO winner actor Reginald L. Wilson was too young to see the action on “Sugar”. He has never been a boxer, but is an ex-marine and studied martial arts. He looks a lot like the champion. They are almost identical in height: Robinson was 5 ’11 “; Wilson was 5′ 10”. They even have a similar vocal timbre and regional inflection. Robinson’s family came from Georgia to Harlem; Wilson grew up in North Florida.
Mr. Wilson arrived in New York City in January 2011 to intern with Woodie King Jr. and the New Federal Theater, and in 2012 he received an AUDELCO Award (Lead Actor) for his performance as Levee in ” My Rainey’s Black Bottom, ”which was presented by the New Haarlem Arts Theater (NHAT) at Aaron Davis Hall. The year before, he made his New York debut in the NHAT production of James Baldwin’s “Blues for Mister Charlie” and was praised by Nytheater.com for his “outstanding performance”. He appeared as John in Strindberg’s “Miss Julie”, remodeled by August Strindberg Rep in a South Antebellum tale. He also appeared in Matthew McNerny’s “Stockholm Savings” at the NY Fringe Festival (Award: Outstanding Ensemble) and performed “Home” by Sam Art Williams, conducted by Woodie King Jr., for Project One Voice in Detroit. In 2016, he starred in Laurence Holder’s One Man Show, Sugar Ray, directed by Woodie King Jr., and he won his second Audelco award for best solo performance. Other New York credits include assistant director for the critically acclaimed cover of “A Soldier’s Play” (which won three Audelco Awards, including best cover of a play), “Black Angels Over Tuskegee,” “Twisted”, “Haiti’s Children of God”, “The Whistle in Mississippi” and “The Reunion”. He directed “Dearly Departed” at Mars Hill University in North Carolina, appeared as Xavier in Dominique Morisseau’s “Pipeline” in Portland, Oregon for The Portland Playhouse and Confrontation Theater, and played Levi in ” Cowboy ”by Layon Gray, which earned him a nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the Broadway World Regional Awards. On television, he appeared in five episodes of “Celebrity Crime Files”, “Redrum”, “I Killed My BFF”, “Celebrity Close Files” and two episodes of “My Dirty Little Secret”. He holds a BA in Theater from A&M University of Florida, where he was the University’s mascot, and an MA in Theater from the University of Florida, where he won an award for teaching for his class Theater improvisations when dealing with social and political affairs. He taught at the City College of NY, where he edited the Acting IV curriculum, “The Business of Acting”.
“Sugar Ray” will have the scenography by Patrice Davidson, the lighting design by Lucky Gilbert Pearto; sound design by Thomas R. Gordon and Kimberly K. Harding; costume design by Edith Carnley.
Gail Thacker, artistic director of 24 Bond Arts Center, a resident company of Gene Frankel Theater, describes her goal, writing: “We seek to give a home to artists who cultivate a theater that is not just about socio-political change – but personal change, the only truly manageable change that can lead to a new and better social, political, and economic world. The work that has come from the Gene Frankel Theater over the past seventy years has been rooted in civil rights and progressive thinking. “
January 6 to 23, 2022
Gene Frankel Theater, 24 Bond Street (East Village)
Presented by 24 Bond Arts Center in association with Faith Steps Productions
Preview January 6, opens January 7, runs Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. plus Saturday mornings and Sunday at 3:00 p.m.
Tickets $ 32 gen. Adm., $ 22 seniors and students
To buy tickets: https://tinyurl.com/4zmh57ff
Information: Gene Frankel Theater 917-841-7567
Runs 1h15. Critics are invited from January 7 (opening date).