I'll never be able to think of Nat King Cole in quite the same way after watching Dennis Spears's performance last week in Illusion Theater's Always and Forever. Spears won an Ivey for his portrayal of the smooth singing Cole, but his turn as suave Lothario Leviticus Tucker comes pretty close to equaling that performance. It's certainly one of the highlights in this slightly revised edition of the hit 2010 show, which features a quartet of top performers singing soul and funk love songs from the 1960s and '70s for two hours.
The piece offers three sides of the love die, ranging from a teenager in the first real throws of the emotion (Jackson Hurst), to a man in the midst of love troubles (Julius C. Collins III), to a man content in his long-lasting marriage (David Hurst, stepping into T. Mychael Rambo's shoes for this edition). The story is mere millimeters thick, but is there mainly to give the characters plenty of opportunities to sing. They do that, harmonizing beautifully from the first notes of "Love Music" through the rest of the quickly paced show.
Spears takes the lead on several funky numbers (such as James Brown's "Talking Loud and Saying Nothing") but also exposes something of a tender heart on "Tears of a Clown." Collins gets an absolute highlight with Al Kooper's "I Love You More than You'll Ever Know," stretching and bending the notes to pull out every ounce of energy within. The father and son Hursts bring out their own perspectives: the elder ("When a Man Loves a Woman") and the young, innocent ("I'll Be There").
It's very much the same delightful show that we saw in 2010, but arrives at a nice time when audiences are probably looking for something on the lighter side, and without any holiday message at all. The only indications of the season are a string of tinsel across the back of the barbershop set and an encore, which is a cappella musical present from the company.
Most importantly, Always and Forever is a lot of fun to watch. The performers are in top form, both in their singing and dancing. The arrangements are top notch, and the staging is often clever, such as Spears and Jackson Hurst heading into the audience to spread the love on Marvin Gaye's steamy "Let's Get it On."
IF YOU GO
Always and Forever
8th Floor, 528 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
Through January 8, 2012
For information, call 612.339.4944 or visit online