By Kerry McNally, WCCO-TV

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The late great Nat King Cole was an accomplished jazz musician, successful singer song writer and a television pioneer. A new play all about him is about to open at the Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul.

It’s called “I Wish You Love”  and it offers audiences an intimate look at this legendary performer.

“The piece is just a fascinating study,” said Director Lou Bellamy. “You get a chance to not only see Dennis performing as Nat during the show, but you get that look. That television look.”

The year is 1957. And for the first time in our nation’s history a black man is hosting a variety show on national TV.

“It’s a squeaky clean America that really didn’t exist. It was something that the media created. And so was Nat and so was his image,” Bellamy said.

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Bellamy believes the importance of this piece is that it gives the audience a look at what was actually going on behind the scenes.

“That stuff juxtaposed with the civil rights movement and the danger and fear that was part and partial of that era is in the show,” he said.

The show only lasted one year because advertisers wouldn’t support it. Nat King Cole would later say, “Madison Avenue was afraid of the dark.”

“He touched Peggy Lee, Nat did, and so he’s getting ready to lose a sponsor, before that he escorted her, sort of, to a chair and that was enough to lose a sponsor,” Bellamy said.

There’s also laughter to go along with the lessons and 22 timeless songs performed by award-winning jazz singer Dennis Spears.

“I’ve always admired his music and wanted to do something in tribute to him,” Spears said.

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For ticket information, check the Penumbra Theatre’s website.