Nat “King” Cole is legendary within the music industry and the African-American community. His voice was smooth as silk and skin like cocoa butter. Many of this generation don’t think of him past the holidays, where you literally can’t travel anywhere without hearing his iconic Christmas classic – The Christmas Song.
Kudos to Patricia McGregor and Colman Domingo for bringing him back into the mainstream consciousness in the form of Dule Hill in the Geffen Playhouse Production of Lights Out: Nat “King” Cole.
The audience is given a birds-eye view to the last broadcast of The Nat “King” Cole Show on NBC – December 17, 1957 with stage hands running around checking lights, musicians on the bandstand warming up and action eventually swinging around to Cole as he personally prepares.
Lights Out : Nat “King” Cole is not a musical adaptation of the crooner’s life onstage. Expect to be schooled on how racism effects even the most successful and accepted people of color.
We watch Cole struggle with the network powdering him down to make him appear “lighter” on all those black and white television consoles. We are privy to lack of a national sponsor, the show is pulled from the NBC roster.
Finally, Cole is faced with the decision of choking back yet another smack in the face at the hands of racism or letting those feelings out ranting to his studio audience.
Dule Hill embodies Cole from the top of his head to the bottom of his toes. His performance is truly the stuff legends are made of. Not far behind him is Daniel J. Watts through Sammy Davis, Jr. aka the MC for Cole’s conscience. Watts is over the top in character and energy, but propels the pace of this piece when it’s needed most.
The musical numbers are outstanding with Me and My Shadow featuring Watts and Hill tapping out the hate will send chills through your spine.
Zonya Love (Perlina and others) belting out a spirited version of Orange Colored Sky and the Negro National Anthem Lift Every Voice and Sing will make you want to stand up and shout!
Gisela Adisa as Eartha Kitt gave me life and if I didn’t know any better I’d swear Eartha had come back from the grave to let us have it just one last time. Ruby Lewis, doubling up as Peggy Lee and Betty Hutton is fabulous at embodying the spirit of both legendary entertainers with verve and sparkle power.
Director Patricia McGregor is a genius at crafting and writing with such subtle tones that one doesn’t know they have been smacked with truth, realism and a little fairy dust until the footlights dim. Colman Domingo hits us with that same uncomfortable shock value he hit audiences with in his Tony Nominated role for Passing Strange on Broadway. Someone had to get the message out there and he is the perfect person to deliver it to the masses. Glad to see him embracing his playwright hat with ease and grace.
Lights Out: Nat “King” Cole has been extended at the Geffen Playhouse through March 24th.
If you haven’t seen it, run don’t walk down a lane of history only available for passage in Los Angeles.