Straight from the fingertips and carefully crafted thoughts of writer Dominic Taylor, “I Wish you Love,” directed by Lou Bellamy, definitely exceeds its backdrop of jazz music and love-laced soliloquies, as they are intertwined with the life of Nat King Cole during the period in which he hosted his own television variety show.
Penumbra’s stage is magically transformed into the set of “The Nat King Cole Show,” and the audience serve as observers of the weekly classic; a moment in time which is also equipped with retro TV commercials, and news telecasts illustrating where we stood in the civil rights movement some fifty years ago today.
The show opens with the grace of Cole’s beautiful voice walking us through every emotion that surrounds his vocal palette. But it is, in fact, when the cameras are off that we become privy to the real man behind the masked entertainer Cole presents to the television audience; a man who must deal with the racial injustice that surrounds an African American vying for success in an industry dominated by white managers and producers.
Although Cole broke several barriers, his actions did not remove the incendiary breath of racism and ignorance or the constant pressure of always having to smile during the hour when his soul yearned to cry. Taylor and Bellamy do an excellent job of delivering the rise and fall of an emotion, as we laugh at Cole’s subtle jokes, and smile at the beauty of his instrument before being swept away by a storm called life.
Dennis W. Spears stars as Nat King Cole, a role that feels as if he was born to play it. He delivers eloquence, grace and strength as the man who knew how to charm an audience when the lights were on, and at the same time, exude strength in the face of some very challenging situations. Kevin D. West plays his right hand man, Oliver Moore, a witty bass player with a big bite; unafraid to look his adversary in the face, and coolly unphased by the strike of any challenge. Eric Berryman strolls into the part of the young pup in the group, Jeffrey Prince, a man with a lot of heart, still climbing over the hump of being the novice in some pretty gritty circumstances.
Michael Tezla wears several hats during the production. He steps into the role of Bill Henry, Cole’s boss, the announcer of “The Nat King Cole” show, as well as the nightly news anchor. All parts that, although they require a different face inside the televised glass, still bring us back to one definitive understanding, Tezla represents “Them,” – those who hold the power, while Cole and his band symbolize “Us,” – the many still seeking power when the glass appears to be half full.
“I Wish You Love” is a refreshing, eye opening play that will make you laugh, cry, and remember a legend not only for his music, but also for his strength of fighting a fight in entertainment, that African American’s no longer have to battle today.
“I Wish You Love” runs now until May 22. So far, its run has been delivered beautifully to sold-out audiences. Plan ahead, and plan to be part of the music, the magic and the dazzle of Nat King Cole as seen through the eyes of Dominic Taylor and the Penumbra Theatre.
For more information or tickets: www.penumbratheatre.org.