BWW Reviews: Ensemble's I WISH YOU LOVE Swings, Sound and Sincere

July 15
6:53 AM 2014

"I was always battling the system to try to get to be with my people.
Finally, I wouldn't work for places that kept us out . . .
it was a damn fight everywhere I was,
every place I worked,
in New York, in Hollywood, all over the world."

- Lena Horne

Ensemble LOVE 6.18.2014-73.jpg
L to R: Derrick Brent II, Jason E. Carmichael, and Dennis W. Spears.

The quote above from Lena Horne is sound accompaniment to I WISH YOU LOVE. The play chronicles Nat "King" Cole's struggles to keep his popular show on the air against the prejudiced American public, sponsors and studio executives. Over and over again, the skittish execs force Nat to decide what is most important to him - the show or his people.

Director Lou Bellamy successfully executes this incredibly intricate and intelligent play.

However, playwright Dominic Taylor misses an opportunity to explore the inner depths of three men of varying ages and political proclivities. As written, Nat "King" Cole gets three dimensions and his people get one. Though I am of the opinion that stories concerned with excessive enmity and evil need to be, at least partly, melodramatic to accommodate the unbelievable, caricature doesn't work here.

With the help of Hair and Makeup Designer Roenia Thompson and Costume Designer Matthew Lefebvre, Dennis Spears (Nat "King" Cole) transforms into an uncanny likeness of Nat "King" Cole. Though Spears shows signs of vocal strain early on in the show, his smooth, gravely voice mixed with excellent diction, phrasing and rhythm make up for any imperfections.

Derrick Brent II (Jeffrey Prince) has some missteps. But he is effective and expressive when needed most.

Despite the one-dimensionality of his character, Jason E. Carmichael (Oliver Moore) is exceptionally funny. An example, after being implored to wear a tie throughout the play, Jason E. Carmichael's Oliver finally exclaims "No black man has ever willingly put a rope around his neck."

Though the show would benefit from live music, it still works. It works best when everything or every player plays his (or its) part. In several songs, including "Smile" and the Act 1 closer "Let There Be Love," all the elements of the production come together to a wonderful effect.

It is definitely a show worth seeing.

Until we meet again:

I wish you shelter from the storm,
a cozy fire to keep you warm, and
Most of all, when snowflakes fall, I wish you love.

The Ensemble Theatre production of I WISH YOU LOVE runs June 26 - July 27 on Thursdays at 7:30 p.m, Fridays at 8:00 p.m, Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m, and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. For tickets ($28-$55), please visit www.EnsembleHouston.com or call 713-520-0055.

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