Breaking Baz: Broadway-Bound ‘Ali’ Musical Gets Set For A Rumble In The Windy City

Breaking Baz: Broadway-Bound ‘Ali’ Musical Gets Set For A Rumble In The Windy City

, the Broadway-bound musical about boxing titan and 20th century icon Muhammad Ali, who sought to use his fame to champion human rights, is headed for a springtime rumble in Chicago.

The show, part of the next Broadway in Chicago season, will have its out-of-town premiere at the James M. Nederlander Theatre from April 22-May 18, 2025.

Richard Willis, Ali‘s lead producer, told Deadline that the production is raring to go.

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The creative team is led by the show’s writer and director Clint Dyer, the deputy artistic director of London’s National Theatre, and by its composer, the conductor and musician Teddy Abrams, who is music director of the Louisville Orchestra.

From left: Clint Dyer, Richard Willis and Teddy Abrams (Baz Bamigboye/Deadline)

They’ve done workshops for music, choreography, scenic design, the book and other disciplines. ”And I mean, we’re hammering now,” Willis said. 

“The throttle is to the floor now, as they say. And we’re just barreling. We’re barreling towards Chicago,“ he added with some brio.

Rehearsals are likely to start early February in New York for six or seven weeks. Then, said Willis, “the whole circus goes to Chicago, and we tech and rehearse in the theater there.”

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The sports legend spent momentous segments of his life in the Windy City. For two years straight — 1959-60 — the young Cassius Clay, as he then was known, won the coveted Golden Gloves championship in bouts held at the old Chicago Stadium.

He returned there a few years later to be closer to Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, who resided in Kenwood on the South Side.

Willis recently toured all the Ali landmarks in Chicago. “During his Nation of Islam days, Ali lived in Chicago about a block down the street from Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam HQ. Ali loved Chicago, and the city loved him back.”

It was a really pivotal time for Ali, going from a young superstar fighter then growing into and out of the Nation. That period seemed to really form his philosophies as a world leader, and once he saw the pitfalls of the Nation of Islam’s teachings, he became much more worldly and a uniter, thus turning into the world icon we think of him as today.

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“The Chicago years were a really important maturation period for Ali,” Willis explained.

Ali married the first two of his four wives — Sonji Roi and Belinda Boyd [later changed to Khalilah Camacho-Ali ] — in Chicago. He was betrothed in 1977 to wife No. 3, Veronica Porsche, in Beverly Hills. Following their divorce, he wed Lonnie Ali in their hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, where, incidentally, their mothers were neighbors and best friends.

Lonnie Ali is a producer of the Ali musical.

When filmmaker Steve McQueen was shooting the heist thriller Widows in Chicago, a production assistant kindly ferried me around various local landmarks including locations where Ali had resided.

Breaking Baz met The Greatest several times over the years, the last time, memorably, was on the red carpet at the 1997 Independent Spirit Awards. 

Breaking Baz meets Muhammad Ali in 1997

Ali will combine spoken word, verse classical music, poetry, jazz, rap and hip-hop.

Over the past two years, Willis, Dyer and Abrams have assembled a formidable team to create a score, and a show, that incorporates those aforementioned styles to help sum up the three-time world heavyweight champion and how he transcended his achievements in the ring to become a towering historical figure on the world stage.

Along with Dyer (Get Up Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical) and Abrams — who, back in 2017, wrote a multimedia opera-rap oratorio mashup titled The Greatest: Muhammad Ali for the Louisville Orchestra –the idea for Ali sprang from that score. The creatives they’ve been working with include choreographers Rich + Tone Talauega (MJ The Musical) and Q-Tip, the Grammy-winning hip-hop legend and founder of A Tribe Called Quest, who is co-lyricist and music producer.

Set design is by Anna Fleischle (Hangmen), costume design by Emilio Sosa (Sweeney Todd), lighting design by Jen Schriever (A Strange Loop), video/projections/media design by Tal Yarden (Network) and Gino Ricardo Green (Get Up Stand Up!), sound design by Kai Harada (Merrily We Roll Along) and Benjamin Grant (NT’s Othello, Get Up Stand Up!).

Orchestrations and arrangements are by Abrams and Sean Mayes, associate director is Asmeret Ghebremichael (The Notebook), music supervisor is Sean Mayes (MJ), creative dramaturge is Fred Carl, special boxing consultant and fight coordinator is Michael “Silk” Olajide Jr., and Grammy-winning saxophonist and vocalist Casey Benjamin is associate music producer emeritus. Casting director is Jim Carnahan.

Ali is produced by Willis (War Horse) along with co-producers Brook T. Smith, David & Michelle Campbell, Ian Rupert, Jim and Kathy Mora and The Tribeca Workshop in collaboration with ABG Entertainment in partnership with Lonnie Ali.

Dyer’s currently directing the West End transfer of the National Theatre’s Death Of England trilogy, which he wrote with Roy Williams. The plays run July 15-September 28 @sohoplace in London with Paapa Essiedu (I May Destroy You), Thomas Coombes (Baby Reindeer), Erin Doherty (The Crown) and Sharon Duncan-Brewster (Dune: Part One).

The three plays are Death of England: Michael, Death of England: Delroy and Death of England: Closing Time.