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. Continue reading