Today in history… October 30, 1974, the Rumble In The Jungle in what was then called Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); Muhammad Ali knocked out George Foreman in the 8th round of a 15-round bout, regaining his World Heavy Weight title.
The event was well-documented in director Leon Gast’s Oscar-winning documentary, When We Were Kings, which was held up for about 20 years by financial and legal issues, before being released commercially in 1996.
Skip ahead to summer 2012, when it was announced that producer David Sonenberg was developing a musical version of When We Were Kings.
Sonenberg was the producer of the documentary as well.
At the announcement of the musical in June 2012, he had this to say: “The story fuses music, sports, dance, politics, race and culture in a way that should appeal to a broad, pan-generational audience.”
He added that the cast of this stage musical adaptation will include all the notable players who also appeared in the doc, like Don King, James Brown, Norman Mailer, Mobutu Sese Seko and George Plimpton, and of course Ali and Foreman.
The musical’s score will incorporate songs from the era, which were also featured in the movie, like tracks from James Brown, B.B. King, the Pointer Sisters and Bill Withers, as well as some even older music.
Sonenberg said that he planned to incorporate music into the story “in ways that are more naturalistic than in traditional musical-theater fare, while still ensuring that the songs are integrated into the emotion of the story.“
He’s shooting for an Off Broadway run (at least, at first) with the show opening sometime in 2014.
Can you picture Ali floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee while belting out a tune?
I should also mention Soul Power, the verité documentary about the 12-hour, three-night long concert held in then Kinshasa, Zaire, the dream-child of Hugh Masekela and Stewart Levine, that became a reality when they convinced boxing promoter Don King to combine the event with the Rumble In The Jungle.
This legendary music festival (dubbed “Zaire ‘74”) depicts the experiences and performances of such musical luminaries as James Brown, BB King, Bill Withers, Celia Cruz, among a host of others.
The concert has achieved mythological significance as the definitive Africa(n)/American musical event of the 20th Century. It was crafted from extensive “outtakes” that remained after making When We Were Kings, which documented the epic title fight, but relegated the music festival to a small, supporting role.
The “outtakes” remained vaulted for more than 30 years, until this 2009 documentary, lensed primarily by celebrated cinematographer Albert Maysles.
Soul Power is also on DVD.
And finally, director Ang Lee is currently developing what’s been described as an epic look at the boxing world of the 1960s and 1970s, as seen through the prism of its biggest rivalries and greatest fights – including those between Muhammad Ali and Ken Norton who fought 3 times between 1973 and 1976; Ali also fought Joe Frazier thrice in the 1970s (including The Thrilla In Manila); and he also fought George Foreman – the aforementioned Rumble in the Jungle in 1974.
The script for the Universal Pictures project will be penned by Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon).
Did I mention this will be in 3D?
Below is a trailer for Soul Power, followed by the full When We Were Kings, which is available online courtesy of Hulu: