Here’s how Evan Tyrone Martin describes the sound of Nat King Cole: “His singing and his cadence is like a really great stroll and we have to kind of go along with him. He doesn’t pull you along. You kind of want to walk along with him because of the way Nat relaxes into the feeling of the music.”
Martin knows well the sound — and music — of the easy-listening pop singer whose career spanned from the 1940s to his death in 1965 at the age of 45. Martin’s been performing Cole’s music and telling his story for five years, and in the last two years has performed a touring holiday show that features Cole’s classic Christmas tunes such as “The Christmas Song” and “Frosty the Snowman,” among others. An Unforgettable Nat King Cole Christmas will play the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam Dec. 20-22.
When producers asked the Chicago-based musical theater performer if he was familiar with Cole’s music, Martin told them the singer was a favorite of his grandmother “and she is the reason why I’m a singer today — so I grew up listening to Nat King Cole.”
Martin says Cole’s style “is so relaxed but also strangely heightened, too. It kind of draws you in so it feels neither of you are doing any work and everyone is just enjoying it all. It’s a beautiful trick he pulls off.”
What makes Nat King Cole perfect for Christmas? “People are drawn to his iconic holiday music, too, because it takes them to such a specific time and place in their memories when they first heard the music, perhaps with their families. When you hear it again, these memories all come back.”
Set ’em up, Ted
Is that Isaac Washington, the bartender from TV’s The Love Boat, pouring drinks as the holiday barkeep in TheaterWorks Hartford’s latest go-round of its holiday perennial Christmas on the Rocks, playing Dec. 1-23?
You bet, and it’s just as much of a surprise to Ted Lange, who played the bartender for 10 seasons on the hit ABC television series from 1977-87. “I wasn’t interested in playing another bartender,” Lange tells me during a phone chat from his home in Los Angeles, “but TheaterWorks sent me the script and I started reading it and I’m laughing out loud and man, I’m thinking, this stuff is really funny.” So he said yes to another turn as a bartender, this one who hears the sob stories of kid characters from Christmas specials and movies who are now grown-up adults with “issues.”
“The first rule of acting is how to stand on the stage or film and just listen,” says Lange, who, little-known fact, was also in the original run of Broadway’s Hair. “There’s an art to listening and particularly listening in character.”
Lange also listened — and gave advice — in an unusual off-ramp to his acting career. Lange co-wrote a sex advice column for a men’s magazine. “My whole thing was to approach the advice I gave with humor but at the same time, put responsibility on the men to do things right. So I would always tell the men to make sure to cover their monkey and wear a condom — and always respect the girl.”
This is not the Jane Austen look you might expect.
For the Long Wharf Theatre production of Pride and Prejudice, adapter Kate Hamill’s take on the novel is described as “saucy,” “frolicsome” and “screwball.” That goes for the look of the production, directed by Jess McLeod, which runs through Dec. 22 in New Haven.
Designer Izumi Inabahas created costumes that sort of look like period clothing, but, on a closer gaze, you will see some contemporary touches. It’s a modern style of design that has often been seen on stage in the last few years and is perhaps best embodied by the period/sexy-modern touches in Hamilton.
For this playful version of the early-19th-century romantic novel Pride and Prejudice, Inabahas’ fabrics signal character traits before a single line of dialogue is spoken. To show the difference in class, for example, between Lizzy Bennet and aristocratic suitor Mr. Darcy, Inabahas has costumed Lizzy’s family in variations of denim.
“Lizzy is part of a working-class family, so I thought of giving them all a denim kind of patchwork clothing,” she says. For the character of the rogue Wickham: “He’s a lieutenant, so he’s in a red period uniform, but then I gave him a bit of a modern look too with shiny leather pants that have a bit of a ‘wet’ look that’s slightly modern and just enough to make him super sexy.”
Have you heard …?
… Fun Home will be presented by the Yale School of Drama Dec. 14-20. The Tony Award-winning musical, with book and lyrics by Lisa Kron and music by Jeanine Tesori, will also be a highlight of the 2019-20 season at Hartford’s TheaterWorks, playing Aug. 7 to Sept. 13. The touring show played The Bushnell in Hartford in 2017.
… Long Wharf Theatre will soon announce a special developmental pilot project that will act as a laboratory for writers. It’s a collaboration between the theater and a television network.
… Look for the touring production of Hamilton to return to The Bushnell at the end of 2020.