The deliciously smooth voice of Nat King Cole, fondly referred to as a “song’s best friend”, is instantly recognisable.
Presented by: The Adelaide Cabaret FestivalVenue: Artspace Wednesday, 22 June, 2011
The deliciously smooth voice of Nat King Cole, fondly referred to as a “song’s best friend”, is instantly recognisable. His life story – including his three pack a day habit, marriage and infidelity, response to racial prejudice and success as the first African-American TV show host – is perhaps less well known. When I Fall In Love: The Nat King Cole Story, written by Ross Meuller and performed by Bert LaBonte, chronicles the life of a musical great: from his jazz piano days with the ‘King Cole Swingers’ to superstardom as an ambassador for Capitol Records.
The combination of spoken verse, narrative and a collection of Nat King Cole’s most unforgettable musical numbers were used to guide the audience through the story. LaBonte’s voice is incredibly lyrical and his interpretation of numbers like ‘Nature Boy’, ‘L-O-V-E’ and ‘Unforgettable’ were, at times, not unlike Cole’s. LaBonte’s vocal strength however is his upper register, and given Nat King Cole’s smooth baritone voice and relaxed vocal style, LaBonte was rarely offered the opportunity to vocally let loose.
The story telling bounced between narrative and spoken verse, poetically (although not always chronologically) building the character of Nat King Cole. While the dialogue was interesting and informative, LaBonte’s delivery often seemed scripted, hindering the development of rapport with the audience. The spoken verse of ‘Get Your Kicks’ (On Route 66) became confusing and tiresome – the repeated spoken motif “travel my way, take the highway that’s the best” would have made more sense had the number been performed somewhere along the way.
When I Fall In Love: The Nat King Cole Story could benefit from a little less dialogue and a couple more songs – let’s be honest, we were there to hear the music. The grand piano and double bass backing were superb, and could only have been improved with the addition of a jazz drum kit. The familiarity of Nat King Cole’s music had audience members buzzing when their favourite tune was performed, with some struggling to contain themselves singing along.
Crowd favourites included ‘Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer’, ‘Straighten Up And Fly Right’ and ‘When I Fall In Love’. The overall highlight of the show was saved until last, with LaBonte joined on stage by a martini swilling Dean Martin (David Campbell), for a hilarious rendition of ‘Open Up The Dog House’.
The lights failed to blaze when LaBonte returned to stage for a final bow, perhaps depriving the audience of one final Nat King Cole number. Regardless, the audience departed the Artspace theatre slightly confused about Nat King Cole’s life, but happily humming the melodies of the jazz legend.