Sunday, August 27, 2006

Nat King Cole (Actors' Summit)

Audience likes Nat King Cole tribute at Actors’ Summit

What do the songs "Pretend," "Route 66," "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire," "Rambling Rose,” “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” “Nature Boy,” “Mona Lisa” and “Too Young” all have in common? They are all hit songs recorded by Nathaniel Adams Cole, better known as Nat King Cole whose life is showcased in Actors’ Studio’s ‘NAT “KING” COLE’ by Kent LeMar & A. Neil Thackberry. Most think of Cole as a singer, but he was actually trained to be a classical pianist and never considered himself to be a singer, but as a jazz musician.

In 1943, Cole recorded "Straighten Up and Fly Right," which was based on one of his preacher father's sermons. It became a smash hit and changed his musical life.

Cole had many firsts. He was the first black jazz musician to have his own weekly radio show and the first black to have a weekly network television show.

A heavy smoker, he died of lung cancer in 1965, but his music lives on.

Based on audience reactions, and the need to extend the show several times due to positive reviews and comments, ‘NAT “KING” COLE’ is a hit. It is indeed a very pleasant evening of musical reminiscences for those brought up during the 50s and 60s.

Do not go, however, expecting to see or hear Cole. What LeMar does is give a Cole impression, not a recreation. Though he has a nice voice, LeMar isn’t a Cole duplicate. We’ve seen duplicates on the Actors’ Summit stage. In past seasons Thackaberry transformed himself into Clarence Darrow and Wayne Turney morphed into Harry Truman.

LeMar feigns Cole facial expressions, attempts to articulate the Cole speaking sound and give the deep jazz based sounds of the great singer. He is inconsistent in those attempts. Cole prided himself on his diction. He held his consonants and breathed life into his words. LeMar, though he tries, just doesn’t give us the sound that allows us to close our eyes and hear Cole. His most Cole-esque interpretations were: “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square, “ “Sweet Embraceable You,” “Christmas Song” and “When I Fall In Love.”

The script, though it does fill us with details of Cole’s life, isn’t well structured. Many of the songs are dropped in, they don’t help develop the story as in a well integrated reviews. “Let There Be Love,” “Too Young,” “When I Fall in Love,” “Wild Root Cream Oil” and “Smile” fit in. Most of the other songs don’t. The script is being rewritten and it can only be hoped that more effort will be made to integrate the songs into the story.

Because Cole was noted for sitting at the piano and singing, the fact that pianist David Williams plays most of the music, is off-setting. Williams is wonderful , but if this is supposed to be the real Cole performing for us, then Williams’ presence doesn’t make sense. This aspect is confusing as LeMar is an excellent pianist.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘NAT “KING” COLE’ is an audience pleaser. Due to its appeal, the show will be reprised on September 7 and run until the 24th on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday matinees, with some rewriting, including the addition of more musicians to emulate The King Cole Trio