Thursday, 15 December 2011
When I Fall In Love, Dec 14, 2011 ****1/2
When I Fall In Love: The Nat King Cole Story
Performed by Bert LaBonte, Written by Ross Mueller, Produced by Luckiest Productions
Chapel off Chapel, Prahran, Dec 14 to 23, 2011
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Dec 14, 2011
Bert LaBonte launches a charm offensive on us with this homage to legendary, black singer, Nat King Cole, who attributed his silky tones to the three packs of Kool cigarettes a day that eventually killed him.
When I Fall In Love is a musical journey through Cole’s life from his humble, Alabama childhood as the son of a preacher, to playing jazz piano and singing in bars, his television show and rise stardom, his womanising and failed marriages.
LaBonte’s sensitive, restrained performance is an effective interpretation rather than an impersonation of Cole’s character and songs, although his subtle, rich and warm tones often capture the precise timbre of Cole’s idiosyncratic voice.
LaBonte narrates Cole’s life and infuses his own heart-felt passion into Cole’s soulful songs, including a treasure chest of timeless tunes: Nature Boy, Mona Lisa, Unforgettable, Autumn Leaves, Smile and Fascination.
Ross Mueller’s clever, poetic script is the glue between the songs and provides a picture of Cole’s life from a third person perspective.
This allows LaBonte to comment on the social and political environment that surrounded Cole and the effect of discrimination upon his singing and television career.
This cool, arm’s-length narration reduces the emotional impact, and the production might benefit from milking more from Cole’s personal life and tragedy.
Although the cancellation of Sammy Davis Jr. from JKF’s inauguration concert paints a picture of racial prejudice against mixed marriages, it was too long and lacked direct relevance to Cole’s own predicament.
A cracking trio of jazz musicians (John Shawcross on piano, Tim Dunlop on bass, Daniel Zampatti on drums) back LaBonte during songs and underscore his narration effectively.
When I Fall In Love is a fine tribute to the unforgettable Cole who left an enduring musical legacy.
By Kate Herbert