Duaine George and Jade Chavis Watt appear as Nat King Cole and his daughter, Natalie, in Camelot Theatre's musical showcase. - Photo by Steve Sutfin

A jazz pianist with a remarkable voice

A whole lot of music and a little biography highlight Camelot Theatre's musical showcase "Spotlight on Nat King Cole." Duaine George, of Southern Oregon University's Jefferson State Choral Coalition, stars as Cole.

"He really captures the artist's style," says Presila Quinby, the showcase's director and a resident of Camelot Theatre Company.

"Spotlight on Nat King Cole" features 21 songs, including "Unforgettable," "Stardust," "Teach Me Tonight," "When I Fall in Love," "Too Young," "On the Street Where You Live," "Fascination," "Mona Lisa," "Fly Me to the Moon" and "There Will Never Be Another You."

Performances are set for 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through June 12 in Camelot Theatre's new James Morrison Collier Theatre Building, 101 Talent Ave., Talent.

It was Cole's remarkable voice that brought him worldwide popularity, though he started out to become a jazz pianist. Influenced by musicians such as Earl Hines, Cole began performing in the mid '30s when he was a teenager. Playing jazz instrumentals, Cole began singing later in the decade.

"Cole put himself on the map with the song 'Straighten up and Fly Right.' It's a composition based on a black folk tale that his father, a Baptist minister, used in his sermons," says Quinby.

In the late '40s, Cole began recording pop music, often accompanied by string orchestras. Hits followed, such as "Nature Boy" in 1948, "Mona Lisa" in 1950, "Too Young" in 1951 and his signature tune "Unforgettable" in 1951. Never completely abandoning his jazz roots, he recorded the album "After Midnight" in 1956. His last big hit was "Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer" in 1963.

Jade Chavis Watt co-stars as Cole's daughter, Natalie. Although Natalie Cole never performed with her father, she recorded an album of 22 of his hits in 1991. The song "Unforgettable" was digitally remixed to feature a duet of their voices. The single was a gold-selling hit. George and Watt perform this duet as part of the Camelot show.

Brian O'Connor, a scriptwriter based in Talent, penned the biography for "Spotlight on Nat King Cole" and will provide the show's narration.

"He'll give us the story of Cole's life," says Quinby. "Even with personalities that are quite well-known, a scriptwriter can offer details about a person's life that are inspiring."

Such as the fact that Cole's short-lived musical variety program, "The Nat King Cole Show," debuted in 1956 on NBC. It was the first show of its kind hosted by a black person, and it created controversy.

"Cole's career was on a cusp in history when audiences were becoming more open-minded," says Quinby. "It's important that we hear the stories of minority performers who achieved success during a time when they weren't accepted in mainstream entertainment."

Cole was born in 1919 in Montgomery, Ala. His family moved to Chicago when he was 4. He was playing piano in a national tour of a Broadway revue, "Shuffle Along," when it suddenly failed in Long Beach, Calif. Cole decided to remain there.

One of Cole's last performances was in 1964 on CBS' "The Jack Benny Program," where he performed "When I Fall in Love."

Michael Vannice arranged the Cole songs for Camelot's production, and keyboard player Don Harriss, guitarist Al Dinardi, bass player Dave Miller, reed player Peter Spring and drummer Steve Sutfin will perform the music.

Preview tickets cost $16. All other tickets cost $20. There are no student or senior discounts. Reserved seating is available for an additional $2.

Tickets are available at www.camelottheatre.org or by calling 541-535-5250.

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