I Wish You Love, a new, original “drama with music” from St. Paul, MN’s Penumbra Theatre tells the tale of how beloved entertainer Nat “King” Cole chose to end his 1956-7 TV variety show, the first primetime network program hosted by an African-American.
Cole dipped into his own pocket to keep it going, and A-list friends like Peggy Lee, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Tony Bennett appeared for scale, but it was no use: With Montgomery Bus Boycott still in effect, no national sponsor would risk paying to bring a black man into America’s homes. When NBC insisted Cole segregate the players in his band, which didn’t even appear on camera, he finally balked. Ironically, lack of a live band is what keeps this show from living up to its considerable potential. It features 20 songs; far too many given that its Cole, Dennis W. Spears, is singing to prerecorded music. And several songs fail to advance or comment upon the story in any resonant way — not necessarily a problem, if Spears can sing the shit out of them.
But does he sing the shit out of them? Read my WCP review! Also reviewed, Scena Theatre‘s PURGE,wherein Finnish dramatist Sofi Oksanen fashions a grisly metaphor for the twisting political fortunes of Estonia, where democracy flowered briefly circa 1920-40 before being by supplanted by Soviet, then Nazi, then Soviet totalitarianism. Bring the kids!