Category Archives: PERFORMANCE

LIGHTS OUT — NAT “KING” COLE

By the mid-1950s, Nat “King” Cole was one of the biggest singing stars in the world and the most prominent African-American, by far, to host his own television variety show. The Nat King Cole Show aired for just over a year during NBC’s 1956–1957 season and drew only one national sponsor—the makers of Arrid deodorant bought a few months of airtime. The slack was taken up by a number of local alcoholic beverage companies—Rheingold in New York, Regal beer in New Orleans, rotgut Thunderbird in Chicago—who didn’t seem to share Madison Avenue’s fear of a boycott once eyes in the South got a look at Cole sharing the stage with such white, female stars as June Christy, Margaret Whiting, Peggy Lee, Gogi Grant, and the raw and raucous Betty Hutton. (Heads must have exploded across the country when mixed-race couple Pearl Bailey and Louis Bellson appeared as Cole’s guests in July 1957.)

This is the story from which playwright and actor Colman Domingo and writer-director Patricia McGregor have crafted LIGHTS OUT: NAT “KING” COLE, their short and bracing blend of show-stopping entertainment, social activism, and American Grand Guignol, set on December 17, 1957, the final night of the broadcast.

The drama begins with Cole (Dulé Hill, a picture of grace under pressure) sitting at his dressing-room table, contemplating his future and enduring the indignity of the studio’s make-up artist (Mary-Pat Green) reluctantly lightening his skin with powder. Visited by memories, hallucinations, and nightmares, Cole is confronted with the question: Will he call out the racism and abuse that were/are a part of everyday life for black men and women in this country, no matter how successful, or will he remain the singer white America loved to listen to, but not share a meal with—smooth, dignified, reserved Nat Cole?*

The angel-devil on Cole’s shoulder pushing him to break out of his shell is the triple-threat Rat Packer Sammy Davis, Jr., played by Daniel J. Watts as a delight of motor-mouth megalomania. Singing, swinging, mugging, telling jokes, imitating Cole, and—midway through the show—joining the headliner in a cathartic tap-dance duel that brought down the house, Davis is Cole’s conscience, a release valve for his eleventh-hour breakdown.

About the showstoppers: In addition to the tap number, the vocalists Zonya Love (as Cole’s mother) and Ruby Lewis (as Betty Hutton, singing Frank Loesser’s “I Wish I Didn’t Love You So”) nail their big numbers and school the audience in Fifties-style professionalism, and Gisela Adisa brilliantly captures the erotic cheek and wonderful feline absurdity of Eartha Kitt.

Edgar Godineaux is the show’s choreographer, and tap and additional choreography are by Jared Grimes. The tight music and vocal arrangements and orchestrations by John McDaniel live up to those by the legendary Nelson Riddle, portrayed upstage with his live band led by David Witham.**

LIGHTS OUT—NAT “KING” COLE

Through March 24.

Geffen Playhouse

10886 Le Conte Avenue, Westwood, Los Angeles.

*Six months before the premiere of his television show, Cole was attacked and beaten on stage in Birmingham, Alabama.

**In addition to Witham on keyboards, Greg Porée plays guitar, Edwin Livingston is the bassist, and Brian Miller handles drums and percussion.

From top: Dulé Hill as Nat “King” Cole in Lights Out—Nat “King” Cole, Geffen Playhouse, 2019; Hill and Daniel J. Watts as Sammy Davis, Jr.; Gisela Adisa as Eartha Kitt; Ruby Lewis as Betty Hutton and Hill; Watts and Hill; Hill. Photographs by Jeff Lorch.

RAFA ESPARZA AND RON ATHEY

Join Rafa Esparza and Ron Athey as the two legendary performance artists talk about their work and whatever else comes up on the opening day of Frieze Los Angeles.

RAFA ESPARZA AND RON ATHEY IN CONVERSATION

Friday, February 15, at 3:30 pm.

Paramount Pictures Studios

Sherry Lansing Theatre

5515 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles.

(Enter on Gower or Van Ness.)

From top: Ron Athey in Acephalous Monster, 2018, photograph by Rachel Papo, courtesy Performance Space, New York; participants in Rafa Esparza’s De la Calle parade in downtown Los Angeles, 2018, photograph by Carolina A. Miranda; Esparza, Mas caras y mas gestos performance, July 8, 2016, Made in L.A. 2016, Hammer Museum, photograph by Barbara Katz, courtesy Esparza and the Hammer; Esparza (left) and Athey at Frieze Los Angeles, February 15, 2019, courtesy the artists and Frieze.

BENCE VÁGI’S NON SOLUS

Making its BAM debut, the Recirquel Company Budapest presents NON SOLUS (“not alone”), written, directed, and choreographed by Bence Vági.

The duet—a combination of circus and dance—explores a primordial past through a new movement vocabulary.

NON SOLUS

Thursday through Saturday, February 14, 15, and 16.

All shows at 7:30 pm.

Brooklyn Academy of Music

Howard Gilman Opera House

30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn.

Bence Vági, Non Solus. Image credit: Recirquel Company Budapest.

JEROME ROBBINS AND NEW YORK

“My beautiful city is set on rock between two flowing paths of water that run to the sea. My city is tall and jagged—with gold-slated towers… My city chokes on its breath, and sparkles with its false lights—and sleeps restlessly at night. My city is a lone man walking at night down an empty street watching his shadow grow longer as he passes the last lamp post, seeing no comfort in the blank, dark windows, and hearing his footsteps echo against the building and fade away.” — Jerome Robbins

Admired, disparaged, beloved, feared, Jerome Robbins (1918–1998) was one of the great choreographers of the twentieth century. Arthur Laurents told Robbins he was “a shit” for naming names as a “friendly witness” for HUAC. (Robbins feared being exposed as bisexual.) Yet Laurents continued to collaborate with him, most notably on West Side Story. (Stephen Sondheim, the show’s lyricist, said that Robbins was one of the only geniuses he’d ever worked with.)

Through his work with the American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, and on Broadway—On the Town, Gypsy, and Fiddler on the Roof, to name just three shows among dozens—Robbins was indelibly associated with his home base and muse: Manhattan.

A new exhibition curated by Julia Foulkes marks Robbins’ centenary and his lifelong celebration of the city, and includes dance films and videos, diaries, paintings, story scenarios, press clippings, and extensive photographic documentation.

VOICE OF MY CITY—JEROME ROBBINS AND NEW YORK

Through March 30.

New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

40 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York City.

From top: Sharks and Jets dance in West Side Story, on tour in Europe in the early 2000s; the original Fancy Free cast—Muriel Bentley, Janet Reed, Harold Lang, John Kriza, and Jerome Robbins—in Times Square in 1958, with photographer Gordon Parks leaning over his tripod, courtesy the Jerome Robbins Dance Division/The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts; Mikhail Baryshnikov in the New York City Ballet production of The Four Seasons (1979), choreographed by Robbins; Antoinette Sibley rehearses Afternoon of a Faun with the choreographer, photograph by Michael Childers, courtesy Dance Magazine; Damian Woetzel and Tiler Peck dance Robbins at Kennedy Center, 2017; Carmen de Lavallade, Robbins, and Yves Saint Laurent—photograph by Whiteside—and Robbins in 1944, both courtesy Dance Magazine.

GRACE WALES BONNER

The public presentation of MUMBO JUMBOGrace Wales Bonner’s Autumn/Winter 2019 collection that shares a title with Ismael Reed’s revolutionary 1972 novel—will conclude A TIME FOR NEW DREAMS, Wales Bonner’s exhibition at the Serpentine.

Throughout this final week of the show, the dancer and performance artist Michael-John Harper will take residence within the gallery and perform a daily ritual of movements.

Exploring “magical resonances within black cultural and aesthetic practices” through improvised installations and shrines, A TIME FOR NEW DREAMS also incorporates the work of Chino AmobiBlack Audio Film Collective, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, David Hammons, Michael-John Harper, Liz Johnson Artur, Rashid Johnson, Kapwani Kiwanga, Klein, Laraaji, Eric N. Mack, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Ben Okri, Ishmael Reed, Sahel Sounds, and Wales Bonner.

GRACE WALES BONNER—A TIME FOR NEW DREAMS

Through February 16.

Serpentine Sackler Gallery

West Carriage Drive, Hyde Park, London.

Exhibition booklet.

From top: Eric N. Mack, Capital Heights, 2019, in Grace Wales Bonner—A Time for New Dreams, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, 2019; Rashid Johnson, Untitled (daybed 1), 2012; Wales Bonner; Grace Wales Bonner, Everything’s for RealLiz Johnson Artur, There is only one…one, 2019. Images courtesy the artists and the Serpentine Galleries.