DéYonté Jenkins stars as Cassius Clay Photo by Colin Peterson (NCT)

By Janice Malone

NASHVILLE, TN — Nashville Children’s Theatre (NCT) celebrates Black History Month with And In This Corner: Cassius Clay, the making of Muhammad Ali, opening this week and running through March 12. And In This Corner: Cassius Clay was written by playwright, rapper, and essayist, Idris Goodwin.

DéYonté Jenkins has the coveted starring role as the young Cassius Clay. This will be the thespian’s debut on the NCT stage. “I hope that both adults and kids who see this play will cause them to find their own personal truth about themselves. And once it’s found, stick with it and hold fast to those beliefs no matter what people will say, the same way that Ali did,” Deyonte shared with the Tribune earlier this week between rehearsals. The young actor was born in nearby Portland, TN but graduated from the University of Evansville in Evansville, IN with a B.F.A in Theatre Performance. Some of his acting credits include, “Albert/Kevin” in Clybourne Park, “Mr. Black” In The Wild Party, “Charles the Wrestler” in As You Like It, “Poach’tegg” in  Marriage, and “Vic Vicious”

Before he was real-life superhero Muhammad Ali, he was Cassius Clay, a black teenager growing up in segregated Louisville, Kentucky. Against all odds, and with the help of his boxing coach, the young man pursues and achieves his dream of Olympic Gold, but when faced with the realities of Jim Crow America, grows disenchanted with the world around him, struggling to find his place in it. Vowing to never be treated as a second-class citizen again, Cassius decides he must also use his gifts to work for the good of his community. While And In This Corner: Cassius Clay explores the early life of Ali, the lessons of empowerment and understanding are extremely relevant to kids and families of today.

Like the young Cassius Clay, Deyonte recalls that his own childhood of growing up in small town Tennessee wasn’t exactly an ideal setting either. He says: “I didn’t grow up in ideal surroundings as a kid either, but I was able to transcend those surroundings to get me to where I am today. Away from the stage, I’m actually very shy. But playing this character has helped me to become more comfortable with who I am as a person, and in expressing my beliefs. It’s been a great experience.”

Playing the role of the acclaimed iconic boxing legend is challenging enough, but for this role Deyonte’ also had to endure extensive training in boxing lessons that began last summer. ”Oh yes, I’ve been training…taking lots of boxing lessons of getting punched in the face,” says Deyonte’ with a laugh. “But It’s been a fun process. Fighting inside of a boxing ring gives you so much power. For me, being in that ring brought out something in me that had been lying dormant for a very long time.”

Fight choreography for the production will be handled by Eric D. Pasto-Crosby; scenic and lighting design by Scott Leathers; costume design is by Patricia Taber; and sound design is by Paulo Ventura. Other cast members include: Marc Payne as Cassius’ father Cash and the boxing trainer Fred Stoner; Kyle Williams as boxing legend Sugar Ray Robinson and neighborhood bully Corky Baker; and Becky Wahlstrom who will be portraying Ringside Announcer. Returning to NCT are Shawn Whitsell as Cassius’

And In This Corner: Cassius Clay is recommended for children age 10 and older.

School performances are weekdays at 10 and 11:45 a.m. are selling quickly. Weekend performances are open to the public, scheduled at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays February 25 through March 12, and reservations are recommended. There is no Sunday performance on Feb. 26. Individual weekend ticket prices are $15 per child (ages 2 to 17), $20 per adult; group, senior, educator, and military discounts are also available. A homeschool performance is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. on Mar. 8, and a sign-interpreted performance is scheduled for Mar. 5 at 2:00 p.m.

For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit www.NashvilleCT.org  or call (615) 252- 4675.