‘An Unforgettable Tribute to Nat King Cole’ With George Benson and the National Symphony Orchestra at The Kennedy Center


At the National Symphony Orchestra’s An Unforgettable Tribute to Nat King Cole. Stephen Reineke, who is the new Principal Pops Conductor for the National Symphony Orchestra, started the evening with “On Broadway,” which was made famous by the featured artist of the evening – George Benson. Reineke has a nice personality and energetic conducting style. He then chose four numbers that were made famous by the late great Nat King Cole: “The Lady is a Tramp” as arranged by Nelson Riddle, “And The Angels Sing,” which featured a stellar trumpet solo by Dan Deitweiler, “Emily” (from the film The Americanization of Emily)with a haunting piano solo by Lisa Emenheiser, and “Charade.” The first half of the concert ended with a lively rendition of the Beatles classic “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da.”

George Benson. Photo by Greg Allen.

After the intermission the main attraction – you would have thought that George Benson – who is a ten-time Grammy Award-winning performer – would have put his own stamp on this tribute to the great Nat King Cole. However, Mr. Benson actually channeled Cole’s voice for much of this part of the program and even used much of Cole’s phrasing. I would have preferred that Mr. Benson would have interpreted these songs in his own personal way, as he did with “Nature Boy” at the end of his Nat King Cole set, instead of trying to imitate the great Nat King Cole.

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I did, however, have my favorites, especially his rendition of “That Sunday Last Summer,” for which Mr. Benson was backed up by six very talented vocalists. I was surprised that when Mr. Benson announced that he was going to perform Nat King Cole’s version of “When I Fall in Love’, that it was actually Natalie Cole’s rendition, which is a duet with her father (that is electronically added), and not her father’s  rendition which Mr. Benson announced. Singer Janey Clewer joined Mr. Benson for the duet. A few other personal highlights included renditions of “Ramblin’ Rose” and a modern take on “Nature Boy.”

George Benson. Photo by Greg Allen.

The third section of the concert was called the ‘Benson Party’ where George Benson performed with his rhythm section: Randy Waldman (Piano/Keyboards/Conductor), Stanley Banks (Bass), Michael O’Neill (Guitar), Thom Hall (Keyboards) and a real hard working drummer named Oscar Seaton. Although it featured some of Benson’s signature songs such as “Breezin” and “This Masquerade” these songs felt way out of place in a ‘Nat King Tribute.”

Running time: 2:20 including a 15 minute intermission.

At the NSO’s An Unforgettable Tribute to Nat King Cole. has one final performance tonight November 26, 2011, at 7 PM, at The Kennedy Center’s  Concert Hall, – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call  (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.

George Benson’s website.

About Elliot Lanes

Elliot Lanes has been a professional stage manager/sound designer/board op for over 20 years. After relocating to Washington, DC from the New York City area and marrying the girl of his dreams Jennifer Perry, he has been privileged to work on productions at Theatre J, Synetic, Prince George's Community College and Studio Theater to name a few. He has contributed designs for many shows in the last three Capital Fringe Festivals, two of which garnered critical raves. He is also the creator of MD Theatre Guide's highly successful 'A Quick 5' column.