“Sugar Ray” Being Served Up As Dinner Theater

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Photo by Mariette Monpierre

Producer Woodie King Jr., invited me to review his latest endeavor, "Sugar Ray," produced by Woodie and written by Laurence Holder. The play is being presented as a dinner theater at the location of Sugar Ray's former business, Sugar Ray Enterprise. Currently, the New Harlem Besame Lounge, owned by Bernardo Rubie and son, sits upon the boxer's former spot, located at 2070 Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard in Harlem. My friend, Mariette Monpierre, an award winning filmmaker in her own right for her feature film ELZA, a New York Times Critics Pick, joined me.

Via his outstanding talent, actor Reginald L. Wilson, brought the one-man play alive with considerable verve, wit and humor. I certainly learned more about Sugar Ray's life than I knew formerly, and what an interesting life the charismatic lady's man and thrice married boxer led. Through his performance, Wilson introduced the diners to the personalities of Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali, and the multiple individuals that Sugar Ray fought in his illustrious career.

Born on May 3, 1921 as Walker Smith, Sugar Ray turned professional when he was 19 years old. He was a natural pugilist with a quick and fluid style possibly brought about through fencing lessons for balance and via the dancing lessons his mother made him and his sister take in childhood.

Over his career, Sugar Ray boasted a professional record of 128–1–2 with 84 knockouts. Incredibly he had an 8 year record of unbeatable fights and racked up to a total of 91 fights. Sugar Ray held the world welterweight title for 5 years, eventually winning the world middleweight title.

In 1952, the fighter retired only to return to the sweet science a few years later wherein he regained the middleweight title in 1955. Amazingly, Sugar Ray won the divisional world championship five times and was named "fighter of the year" twice.

The fight game is not easy and many a boxer has found themselves broke. Sugar Ray had a brief stint as an entertainer, however Sugar Ray struggled financially in latter years and was plagued by encroaching Alzheimer.

Sugar Ray was named the best boxer of all time by The Ring magazine and later named the greatest welterweight and middle weight boxer of the century by the Associated Press.

Those who attend the show will definitely enjoy the art-filled ambiance in the dining area of New Harlem Besame as well as have the opportunity to view Sugar Ray's pictorial memorabilia in the bar area.

Although I have always experienced dinner being served during the course of dinner theater so patrons can eat while watching the performance, Harlem Besame's patrons were presented with a diverse menu before the show but the food was not served until after the presentation of the show. The food was well worth the wait. Both Mariette and I chose to dine on salmon, salad and coconut rice. It was delicious and as delectable as the show itself.

Spending an afternoon at a dinner theater is certainly quite a pleasant thing to do on a Sunday afternoon and given the audience reaction, everyone enjoyed themselves. “Sugar Ray” may be extended, but for now, it is running every Sunday at both 2pm and 7pm, and on Monday's and Tuesdays at 7pm until March 28, 2016.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Interested parties who wish to see the play can call the New Harlem Besame restaurant for reservations at 646-864-77 or go on line at reservations@harlembesame.com


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