Tag Archives: Colman Domingo

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.; Hill and Gisela Adisa as Eartha Kitt; Hill and Ruby Lewis as Betty Hutton; Watts and Hill; Hill. Photographs by Jeff Lorch.

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

“You have two fathers committing crimes to bail out a son who has committed no crimes—which is America in a nutshell.” — Barry Jenkins, December 5, Los Angeles*

Jenkins’ IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK—a lyrical cinematic elegy to familial love and shattered lives shot in amber and scored with apprehension—finally arrives in cinemas this week.*

At the recent Film Independent Presents screening in Hollywood, Jenkins and KiKi Layne—who plays Tish in the film—were joined by Out magazine’s Tre’vell Anderson for a post-screening Q & A, and over the weekend, Layne will return to the Arclight for pre- and post-screening conversations with her fellow actors.

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

BARRY JENKINS IN CONVERSATION

Monday, January 14, at 7:30 pm.

Aero Theatre

1328 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica.

Opens Thursday, December 13, at 7pm.

Cinerama Dome

6360 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood.

KIKI LAYNE, STEPHAN JAMES, and COLMAN DOMINGO IN CONVERSATION

Friday through Sunday, December 14, 15, and 16.

Cinerama Dome

6360 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood.

*James Laxton was the director of photography, and Nicholas Britell composed the music for the film. Both had previously worked with Jenkins on Moonlight.

From top: Tre’vell Anderson, KiKi Layne and Barry Jenkins at the Film Independent Presents screening and Q & A, December 5, 2018, Arclight, Hollywood; Layne and Stephan James in If Beale Street Could TalkRegina King in the film. Film images courtesy Annapurna PicturesArclight photograph courtesy Getty Images and Film Independent.