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Muhammad Ali, George Foreman Documentary ‘When We Were Kings’ Is Being Remade Into a Musical

Posted on August 28, 2017
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World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Muhammad Ali attends a sermon of Elijah Muhammad, Chicago, 1974 (U.S. National Archives)

World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Muhammad Ali attends a sermon of Elijah Muhammad, Chicago, 1974 (U.S. National Archives)

When We Were Kings is set to hit the stage as a musical thanks to producer David Sonenberg.

Leon Gast directed the documentary, which focuses on one of the biggest heavyweight boxing bouts in history.

The documentary features George Foreman’s championship clash with challenger Muhammad Ali in 1974. The two faced off in Zaire, with most followers of the sport believing the 32-year-old Ali was past his prime.

Sonenberg has announced that a workshop for the musical is planned for spring 2019.  Full stage production will begin in 2020. Shelley Marcus wrote the book for the musical, which was adapted from the 1996 documentary.

The score accompanying the musical will be a mixture of R&B classics sung at the Zaire music festival organized around the iconic fight.  The festival included performances by James Brown, The Pointer Sisters, B.B. King, Bill Withers, Celia Cruz, and more.

The Fugees song “Rumble in the Jungle” was written specifically for the film and will be included in the musical.  The song was recorded in collaboration with A Tribe Called Quest and Busta Rhymes.

Other characters that will make a prominent appearance in the musical include promoter Don King. King offered both fighters $5 million apiece for the match, which took place in Zaire thanks to a backer in Mobutu.  Civil rights organizer Stokely Carmichael and author Normal Mailer will also appear.

Gast took 33 years to edit and finance When We Were Kings.  The documentary finally debuted with the help of Gramercy and grossed $2.8 million in the United States alone.

Sonenberg served as one of the original producers on the film alongside Gast and Taylor Hackford.

“Ali’s story, as depicted in When We Were Kings, fuses sports, music, dance, politics, race, and culture in a way that should be compelling to a broad global audience.”

No information about casting has been announced.