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APT’s “The Royale” speaks to the legacy of iconic boxer Jack Johnson through humor, passion, and struggle

Jaylon Muchison, Jamal James & Reginald André Jackson, The Royale, 2023. Photo by Liz Lauren.

“And you know as well as I – 

 A pair of Black boys ain’t never gon’ see that front page”

This is the core frustration of boxing phenomenon Jay “The Sport” Jackson, made visual and palpable front stage as The Royale took to American Players Theater (APT) this past week. The production, directed by Tyrone Phillips, takes the work of Marco Ramirez’s captivating ode to boxing legend Jack Johnson and brings it to life with rhythm and heart.

The production features only a few characters throughout its 90-minute run time but focuses on the people closest to the boxer. Jamal James played the role of Jackson, while his coach Wynton, played by Reginald André Jackson, and sparring partner, Fish, played by Jaylon Muchison, took roles as the main support for the athlete. 

Fight promoter Max, played by Brian Mani, served as Jackson’s route from the world of Black boxing to the world of boxing in general, while Jackson’s sister, Nina, played by Dee Dee Batteast, provided him with perspective on what his fight may bring. 

The struggle to claim the heavyweight champion of the world title as a Black boxer in the early 1900s shapes the atmosphere. The journey, akin to its inspiration in Jack Johnson’s historical match with James Jefferies, often finds itself oscillating between bolstering pride and necessary humility. 

Reginald André Jackson, Jamal James & Brian Mani, The Royale, 2023. (Photo by Liz Lauren.)

The production opens with a deliberate pace set by feet and hands in rhythm moving immediately into Jackson’s initial fight with Fish. Audiences are then given insight into the magnitude of what it meant to have such a visible and successful Black talent for the time. Most of Jackson’s fights are outside of the ring, as he challenges white fight promoter Max in a constant push to reach the heavyweight title.

Perhaps the most heartfelt and intimate moments come from Jackson’s conversations with his sister, Nina, and coach, Wynton. Questions of what could come of the results for pushing against racism and oppression abound as Nina’s inquiries into who Jackson has considered in his venture gave the star pause.

However, an incredibly powerful consideration of just how far Jackson had come, and how far he could take the world became clear as his relationship with coach Wynton is explored. What the show offers in entrancing and satisfying tempo during the action is balanced well by these moments that will surely leave the audience in deep consideration of how some experience the world.

The Royale is a treat to watch as the cast and director truly speak to the legacy of the iconic Jack Johnson through humor, passion, and struggle. Be sure to check out this production at American Players Theater until September 27th.


Learn more about The Royale and purchase tickets at the American Players Theater website here.