The Geffen Playhouse is about to kick off this new year with a bang by proving that great music never dies through the release of their new production. The Geffen Playhouse celebrates the legacy of renowned performer, Nat "King" Cole, with the upcoming production titled Lights Out: Nat “King” Cole, which premieres February 5 and runs through March 17, 2019 at Gil Cates Theater. The production, written by Colman Domingo and directed by Patricia McGregor, has garnered great attention and excitement by artists and musicians alike. The production highlights the musical journey of American jazz pianist and vocalist, Nat King Cole, and his struggle of "[breaking] through America's color barrier in the early days of television” (Geffen Playhouse). Many will discover more of the renowned performer’s early beginnings and how his career ultimately came to be. To share in the excitement of this release, KJazz decided to interview cast member Daniel J. Watts, who plays Sammy Davis Jr., to share the inside scoop behind the scenes and about the production with those interested in attending.

  1. What is your favorite part of the production?
    I have 2 favorite parts of the production. The first is the Write Myself a Letter/Me and My Shadow mashup. Me and My Shadow is a signature song of Sammy's, but we've twisted and turned it to make it mean and feel totally different. It's where the show starts to go left and Dule and I get to take the show/audience behind the curtain, so to speak.  My second favorite is the Christmas have to come to see why.

  2. How did you prepare yourself to play the role of Sammy Davis Jr.?
    Sammy has been one of my idols since I was 6 when he played the Caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland. Preparing to play, however, Sammy is both something I've been doing subconsciously as long as I can remember, but it's also something I doubt I'll ever truly feel "prepared" for. Hands down, Sammy was the greatest! That said, beyond carrying his autobiography (Yes, I Can) with me at all times, I've begun focusing more on the things that influenced him -- listening to the music he was listening to, watching the movies he watched. A lot of his friends he was also fans of so he pulled a lot from them as well. It's a huge well to draw from, but he was honestly enamored by his closest associates, which included Nat, Sinatra, Dino, Jerry Lewis, Mel Torme, Louis Armstrong, Billy Eckstine, Quincy Jones, Marlon Brando, Tony Curtis, to name a FEW. Sammy and I have tons in common, but both being only children might be my saving grace. Only children are always observing and absorbing, thus my ability to be a sponge is what has been serving me most in trying to tackle him and this role.

  3. What is the most valuable lesson one could take away from the show?
    Our fearless leaders Patricia McGregor (director/co-writer) & Colman Domingo (co-writer) call themselves "Sugar & Dynamite", both of them being either sugar or dynamite at any given time. Another way to describe it is "grace and fire". We live in a very different time than when Nat first aired on television. Nat HAD to be more sugar than dynamite if he wanted to survive in the world in which he moved. He had to be the epitome of grace just to get his foot in the door and then he had to make a big enough impression so the rest of us could walk in the door and maybe, from time to time, exhibit a little dynamite -- a little fire. This show helps shine a light on Nat's fire and also examine the cost of his grace. Many assume the man that built Capitol Records had smooth sailings. It was quite the opposite. So I think, I hope, if we do it right, people will walk away with a deeper understanding of the man behind the music and also be more aware of both how grace might be extended toward them (and the cost of that grace) when what they've truly earned is fire.

  4. If you could play anyone else in the show, who would you be?
    The only other possible role for me to play is Nat and I want NO PARTS of it. Dulé Hill has put his stank all over this role. I'm really excited for him, and Nat for that matter, as this is their territory, their town, their home. I anticipate people to be blown away. Everyone is doing incredible work, the show is truly perfectly cast.

  5. What is your typical warm-up process before a performance?
    My warm-up for the show is pretty regimented and specific and starts about 2 hours before showtime. I run a mile or two then do a vocal warm-up before I get to the theater. Then Dule and I tap dance/cypher for about 20-30 minutes (or until stage management kicks us offstage). I then do a calisthenics/stretching routine I've been doing since my high school wrestling days mixed in with a little bit of yoga. That gets me up to about 20 minutes until the places call. I take the rest of that time to get dressed and get into character. We like to put on some era-specific music to get us all situated to the time. Then...we hit it!

Enjoy a video trailer about the production:

More about Daniel J. Watts: Daniel is thrilled to make his Geffen Playhouse debut reprising the role of Sammy, for which he won a Barrymore Award. Broadway credits include: Hamilton, In the Heights and Memphis. Off-Broadway: Suzan-Lori Parks’ Death of the Last Black Man in the Entire World AKA the Negro Book of the Dead (Signature Theatre), Whorl Inside A Loop (Second Stage Theater). Television credits include: NBC’s Blindspot; HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, The Deuce and The Night Of; CBS’ The Good Wife, Blue Bloods; Broad City (Comedy Central); and "Felony" in The Last OG (TBS).


Join KJazz for our KJazz Night at Lights Out: Nat “King” Cole on Thursday, February 28th. For a sustaining donation of $20 per month or $240 for the year, you’ll receive a pair of tickets to see Lights Out: Nat King Cole on Thursday, February 28th for a special KJazz night. Joining the group will be our own Bubba Jackson.

Included with these special pairs of tickets is access to an exclusive, private pre-show hosted reception at 6:30pm. This is a $450 value!

Go online now at or call 310-478-5061.


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Lights Out: Nat "King" Cole Production & Meet Cast Member Daniel J. Watts


"Exploring Music, Exploring Jazz" by Lorraine Bautista


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KKJZ Fundraising, Inc., a registered commercial fundraiser, conducts fundraising activities on behalf of the California State University, Long Beach Research Foundation for the benefit of KJazz. Registration does not imply endorsement.

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