South Shore Breaker
Prelude to a Kiss coming to N.S.
Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald are coming to Nova Scotia!
Well, not in person, of course, but their music is, and it'll be sung by two performers in their first visit to the province.
Prelude to a Kiss is a show put together by the National Stage Company of Canada to celebrate the music and lives of two of music's most charming figures, with British Columbian singer and actress Leina Deboer giving voice to Fitzgerald's lyrics, and New York-based performer James Rich doing the same for
“Through story, through song, we give everybody a taste of what her songs were like back then, with a little bit of our own flavour, modernday,” Deboer tells Saltwire in a Zoom chat, alongside pianist and the show's musical director, Morrissey “Moe” Dunn.
Originally, the evening was envisioned as just Deboer and Dunn highlighting the work of Fitzgerald but soon grew in scope, as they had time between COVID shutdowns to expand the performance to include more musicians and adding Rich to the playbill.
“One of my favourite things to do in a show is build it, layer by layer, to see it grow into more of a production,” says Deboer, who became aware of Rich through his own work highlighting the life of Nat Cole. “I just really liked his style.
“I thought that he had a great talent, and he could really add to the show. Of course, Ella and Nat, they were friends, and they were colleagues back in the day. I
just saw it as an opportunity to build and bring someone on.”
“People had always commented that I reminded them of Nat King Cole — I looked like him on stage,” says Rich, who spoke with Saltwire during a separate Zoom chat (co-ordinating interviews across four time zones is tricky).
“He's not a bad-looking guy, so I'll take the compliment! And the more I learned about him, the more I became curious about his life.”
Rich actually produced a musical about Cole that he starred in and directed, called There Was a Boy, with his first showing at Morgan
State University in Baltimore, Maryland, which Rich says is a predominantly black community.
“I knew they would get some of the nuances of the piece,” says Rich, who later took the show out west. “When we went to San
Diego, it was a predominantly white audience. And the coolest thing happened; we got the same emotional response. I found a really universal story, because that's who Nat was. He brought the world together with music.”
Both Rich and Deboer are hoping for a similarly warm reception when they tour Nova Scotia this May, with shows in Wolfville, Truro, Halifax, Lunenburg, Liverpool, Pictou, Annapolis Royal, Sydney, Amherst and Yarmouth, starting on May 12. But neither have been to the province, which has them both excited and a bit trepidatious.
“I've never been to Nova Scotia before — I didn't even know you guys were in a different time zone,” Rich laughs. “That alone is exciting.”
“I'm very excited,” Deboer adds. “I've heard beautiful things about it, and I have family that were born and raised out there, but I haven't been. I'm looking forward to travelling to all of the little cities and just getting a sense of what all the different flavours are of your beautiful province.”
Luckily for them, Dunn is quite familiar with the region, having been born and raised here, and while still calling Halifax home.
He's helped the pair get excited for the trip, and to assure them that Nova Scotians are a receptive bunch.
“It always circles back to the hospitality, the friendliness of people in Nova Scotia, and the East Coast in general,” says Dunn.
“That always comes up in conversation. And lobster, etc. The plan is very much in place to show James and Leina when they're here in Nova Scotia. They're going to receive the warmth that Nova Scotians are known for.”
As excited as everyone was to provide Nova Scotians an intimate evening of smooth R&B music to enjoy, the production was actually delayed by a whole month, originally intended to hit our shores in April.
Admittedly, the show runners were concerned that life under COVID restrictions — having only just been lifted here in the province last month — loomed too heavy over possible patrons for them to enjoy such an evening.
“We were concerned,” explains Dunn. “When the April shows got moved to May, it was with an abundance of caution.
“So, this extended a little more breathing room, and people who were looking at the restrictions said, ‘Okay, now I'm going to go out. I'm going to enjoy an event.'
“There's a lot of moving parts to this show. To do it in anything less than the optimum environment wouldn't be the right thing to do.”
“We wanted to make sure that we gave some room for this show to do as well as it deserves to,” adds Leina. “You want people to be comfortable enough to come out and enjoy it.”
Now that Nova Scotians have had some time to adjust, the whole crew is hoping Prelude to a Kiss will be a live show folks will feel good about using as a way of testing the waters and getting back out again.
“Don't be afraid to come out and enjoy the music,” says Rich.
“I have a sneaking suspicion that what we're bringing is not necessarily what people are used to seeing, but I think is something they'll be really excited about … I hope people will be receptive, as they were in San Diego.”
“One thing I really hope patrons come and get from this show is just the sense of a reflection of love, and the journey of love we have all taken in our lives,” adds Deboer.
“Anything, from new love to heartbreak. Love can be such a journey, but there's always hope, in whatever season you're in in life.”
“We've all been very careful” adds Dunn.
“I think this is the next big step. Support your local venue and enjoy yourself. Because it's going to be magnificent.”
Tickets for Prelude to a Kiss are available at nationalstagecompanyofcanada.com/copyof-home-for-the-holidays.