note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi
Monroe Kent III
Guitar … Edison Herbert
Bass … Jesse Hautala
Piano … Robert Stevens III
UNFORGETTABLE at the Stoneham Theatre celebrates the artistry of singer Nat King Cole (1919-65); a more probing look at the man himself must wait for another time. Clarke Peters and Larrington Walker have drawn up a gentle one-man show studded with standards about a man who was taught to always turn the other cheek and who lived his life with dignity and grace through segregated times; the narrative is equally divided between Mr. Cole and Sparky, his devoted valet --- not surprisingly, the songs are often used as autobiographical insights. Today’s younger audiences may declare Mr. Cole to be not angry enough, not “black” enough, but it is their own loss should they never encounter the man’s velvety, purring style at least once; UNFORGETTABLE will do as a nostalgic introduction.
In addition to the songs, enjoyable in themselves, there is also the performance of Monroe Kent III who is better looking than Mr. Cole, is convincing at playing “colored” and is blessed with his own smooth voice that slides back and forth from butter to molasses. His speaking impersonation evokes Jack Benny saying, “Well!” and only in the quieter ballads (i.e. “Stardust” and “Mona Lisa”) does Mr. Kent match the master, note-for-note; he has a campy moment to get through --- impersonating one of Mr. Cole’s wives --- but bounces back with the evening’s one satirical thrust: Mr. Cole wearing “white” make-up to appease the television censors and performing “Smile” with the arm gestures of a robot or marionette. A few more nods in that direction would have burned some welcome holes through the Messrs. Peters and Walker’s loving, glazed tribute.
Edison Herbert (guitar), Jesse Hautala (bass) and Robert Stevens III (piano) provide the quiet, unobtrusive accompaniment. The title song is performed at curtain call.