The World Premiere of Little Girl Blue: The Nina Simone Musical runs through Feb. 24, 2019 at New Brunswick’s George Street Playhouse. On Opening Night, the sold-out audience showed their appreciation and enthusiasm for the show. And why not? It has everything a show needs to be a big hit: The multi-talented Laiona Michelle playing the title role, an outstanding band performing an eclectic set list, and a true story that needs to be told.
This production is a one woman show about the life of the dynamic and controversial musician, singer, and composer Nina Simone. Directed by Devanand Janki, Laiona Michelle plays the role of Nina Simone. She plays it so well that at times you will think that you are seeing Nina Simone somehow returning to the stage through her. Not only does Ms. Michelle play the role, but she also wrote the book for the show. She has a well trained singing voice that she uses in a variety of ways to show the many different styles and parts of Ms. Simone’s repertoire. Her interpretations of the songs show great depth and understanding of the trials that would have been a part of Ms. Simone’s world. Her ability to build up a song and bring in strong emotions is extremely effective. Perhaps George Street’s Artistic Director David Saint summed it up best when he said this about her in his introduction on Opening Night: “This woman has no bounds on her talent.” Ms. Michelle is a strong singer and an artist who presents her character with absolute clarity and distinction.
The Story and the Music
To tell a story about an artist like Nina Simone who had so many accomplishments in her artistic life is not an easy task. Wisely, the show is divided into two time periods. The first is 1968, a few days after the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Simone enters the theater with her band to the sounds of a riot taking place outside, escorted by police. Two police officers go up to the stage as the group prepares for the show and they remain there through the first Act. The show begins with “Feeling Good” and the mood is fairly comfortable through a few songs. But as the show progresses, songs that are related to her life become more prominent especially “My Father” then two songs written by Ms. Simone, “Four Women” and “Be My Husband.” The air becomes more tense as “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free” ignites. Although Nina Simone was considered controversial at points in her life, the reasons for why she was angry make sense hearing and seeing this part of the show.
But the highlight of Act One comes as Ms. Michelle performs one of the most important songs written by Ms. Simone, “Mississippi Goddam.” She sings faster and faster and builds a tempo that catches fire as she exits the room. As the door opens to the street, the sounds of rioting ring out to match the dynamics of the song. It is truly an exciting theatrical moment.
The article continues after this ad
Act Two takes place a decade later. We learn that Ms. Simone left the United States and lived in Europe. She also delves deep into the tragic parts of her life such as when she lost her chance to have a scholarship to Curtis Institute of Music contending that racism was behind the denial of her chance. Songs and dialog show her life with its highs and lows from emotional lows to attaining her nickname “The High Priestess of Soul.” The concerns with the status of civil rights continue to be important to her. Ms. Simone’s music added to the soundtrack of the civil rights movement and her own life shows much about that time period. The final song is a testament to the way she lived her life as “My Way” is proclaimed.
Fabulous Music from an Outstanding Band
Central to the show is the variety of music provided by an outstanding band. Mark Fifer provides musical direction, arrangements, original materials and plays keyboards during the show. Saadi Zain plays bass. Kenneth Salters is on drums and percussion. The band is with Laiona Michelle right on stage through the show and in a sense, they become actors as well. Without a doubt, the musicality and versatility of this band is remarkable to hear and see.
Credit for Sound Design goes to Karin Graybash. And of course, strains of Johann Sebastian Bach are heard throughout the show because of the love Ms. Simone had for his music.
An Inspired Set Design and Mural as a Backdrop
Upon entering the theater, one feels that they are going to a concert. George Street Playhouse extends the staging to the audience area by adding wood panels, lights, and designs from the set. A gorgeous mural was specially designed and painted for this show. The images on the mural reflect musical items important to Simone’s career. Vivid colors and sizes are used to produce a backdrop that gives an artistic feel to the set. Scenic Design credit goes to Shoko Kambara with Lighting Design by Xavier Pierce.
A Show Well Worth Seeing
Little Girl Blue: The Nina Simone Musical provides excellent entertainment for audiences of all ages. It has music to please a variety of tastes in genres with a fine performer, Laiona Michelle, turning in a fabulous performance. The historic value of the show shines through as well. The turbulence of the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960’s provides the background but it also examines before and after that time period as well. It moves at a good pace and keeps interest high throughout the show.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours plus one 15 minute intermission
Location: George Street Playhouse, 103 College Farm Road, New Brunswick, NJ
Performances: Now through February 24, 2019
Contact for Info and Tickets: Visit the George Street Playhouse website at www.GeorgeStreetPlayhouse.org or call the Box Office at 732-246-7717.
ALL PHOTOS BY T. CHARLES ERICKSON
Let's Go to the Theater
helps people learn more about about live theater and develop appreciation for this art form. Karen M. Nowosad is the founder of the site. The enjoyment Karen gets from going to the theater is something she wants to share with others.