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Life of Note

Musical about the struggles of Nat King Cole comes to CSUN for one show.

October 27, 2000|ROSEMARY CLANDOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Unforgettable: The Nat King Cole Story," which will play for one performance only Sunday at Cal State Northridge, puts the singer's success into the context of his uphill struggles with segregation.

The show, which stars Monroe Kent III, opens with a line from a sermon by the singer's father: "Sometimes, the Lord tells me to do something and I've got to try to do it. For instance, he tells me to love my neighbor as I love myself."

Although Nat King Cole had a voice that was welcomed into millions of homes around the world, in his own neighborhood, he faced intolerance.

"People remember him as a very soft-spoken, dignified man," said Kent, the show's sole actor who portrays 10 characters. "We have a singer, a great musician, but we forget that he had to create that--being a man of color in a society that wasn't very open to treating people of color with dignity. That's the most incredible point of the musical."

"Unforgettable" is backed by a jazz trio that includes Robert Stevens III, Edison Herbert and Christopher Fiore.

Kent, who starred in "Five Guys Named Moe," "Ain't Misbehavin' " and "Pippin," said he took the part only after being asked seven times. "It was difficult [to imagine] that I could do something as large as this," he said. "There was a lot of growth that had to transpire in me to have the confidence to do this. To put this man's shoes on and try to walk them every night has been so similar to my life and my problems."

As was the singer he portrays, Kent was the son of a minister.

Cole, who died of cancer in 1965 at 45, maintained a busy performing schedule in the year before his death. After Kent lost his mother and a friend through cancer, he accepted the role of the famous singer. Although Kent sings 23 numbers in the style of Nat King Cole, he does not mimic Cole's voice.

"Because it is so good, you're very forgiving of the fact that it's not an absolute mimic of Nat King Cole," said Bill Collins, the executive producer for Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minn., where the show recently played.

The show opened in London and traveled to Ireland, Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok. Kent, a New Yorker, said he felt strongly driven to bring the show to U.S. audiences.

BE THERE

"Unforgettable: The Nat King Cole Story," Sunday, 3 p.m., CSUN Performing Arts Center, 18111 Nordhoff St. Admission $24.50 general, $21.50 for seniors, $15 for students and children. Call (818) 677-3943.

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