|Lights Out - Nat "King" Cole|
by Willard Manus
LIGHTS OUT--NAT "KING" COLE is a musical portrait of the erstwhile pop-ballad singer, centered around his national TV show which was aired for a season in 1957. Despite Cole's popularity with white audiences, the show's chicken-livered sponsor (the Revlon Company) pulled the plug, claiming that a Negro could not sell cosmetics. This prompted Cole to remark, "Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark."
LIGHTS OUT is set in the TV studio where his last show is being rehearsed before an unseen audience. Cole, impersonated believably and, at times, excitingly by Dule Hill, is understandably upset. He was the first African-American to have his own network show; losing it because of racism triggered his anger and resentment, to such an extent that he almost refused to go on the air.
This is what LIGHTS OUT's creators (Colman Domingo and Patricia McGregor) would have us believe. It's one of the many exaggerations of the truth that mar this show, which is now playing at the Geffen Playhouse (while on a national tour). No doubt Cole was upset about being cancelled, but he didn't tear his hair out or try to put his fist through the wall. The man was too cool and composed for that.
Also on the
hysterical side is Cole's producer and manager (Bryan Dobson), who keeps
railing at him, trying to get him to toe the line. "Do this show
and make it a good one, because then I'll be able to talk the network
into giving you a new series," he tells Cole (or words to that effect).