The Woman Behind The Music
Nina Simone, an independent soul who wore many hats in her lifetime, was named Eunice Kathleen Waymon when she was born on February 21, 1933. She was a pianist, musician, singer, author, an activist in the Civil Rights Movement. Nina changed her name when she became a singer hoping this new career would not offend her mother who was a Methodist minister. Her primary function as an artist was to make people feel on a deeper level, her ability to grasp the poignant merits of life and channel it into a song.
Christina Ham brings a profound story to the stage about the most honest woman in America during the civil rights movement era with Nina Simone: Four Women. Based on the part of the title of the play "Four Women" a song written by Nina Simone about four different African American women with varying tones of skin ranging from light to dark and how each one represents an African American stereotype in society is the framework for the play.
Set in the aftermath of destruction where a terrible act of white supremacist terrorism took place on Sunday, September 15, 1963 where a church bombing took place in Birmingham, Alabama, four girls Cynthia Wesley (14), Denise McNair (11), Carol Robertson and Addie Mae Collins (14) lost their lives at 16th Street Baptist Church. In a profound segment of this play, the ladies speak these four little angels souls back to life as they proudly echo their names so history would never forget them.
Leading this powerful cast of 'Black Girl Magic' is award-winning actress Sydney Charles (Flyin' West, Father Comes Home From The War, and Guess Who's Coming To Dinner) who played the influential recording artists Nina Simone. Charles is phenomenal as Simone, she nailed this role with the mannerism and style. If awards are given, she deserves top honors for this performance. The cast which includes Melanie Brezill, Deanna Reed-Foster, Ariel Richardson, and Daniel Riley are exceptional and make Nina Simone: Four Women at Northlight Theatre a 5-star play.
Nina decided to use her adenoidal voice, as her way of being very instrumental and influential during the civil rights movement by singing about love, loss, and fighting for equality. Assisting her in this provocative and personal musical journey was her pianist and brother Sam Waymon (Daniel Riley). Throughout the play, different women of diverse complexions and backgrounds were infiltrated into the church to seek refuge from the terrorism that was going on outside.
Sarah/Auntie played by Deanna Reed-Foster who is of a darker hue was a maid on her way to work, she took pride in never missing work in ten years was the first to encounter Nina. Not knowing the company that she has stumbled across and who this well to do colored lady with the pretty dress, expensive shoes and permed hair was left her intrigued and disturbed by her demeanor.
Then there's Sephronia (Ariel Richardson), the activist who fights for justice on the front line is a mix breed who is ashamed of how she derived at her light complexion. Her father raped her mother and threatened to kill her if she told anyone that she was his daughter. To Sephronia, her light hue was nothing but a curse that enslaved her from her blackness and resented anyone that looks at her as being favored.
Lastly, there was ‘Sweet Thing' (Melanie Brezille) a sultry, sexy woman of a caramel complexion who was a hooker. She came into the church seeking out Sephronia, her arch enemy to give her some news that she just recently discovered. She fought Simone and called her an uppity negro but deep within her desires she only cared about her surroundings, and to get what she can steal from the aftermath of the bombing. However, all of that changed after she discovered that the ladies within the church were the true light she needed to bring her out of her dark past.
The inspired and very talented writing of Christina Ham and the collaboration between Director Kenneth L. Robertson allowed us the privilege to see the shift from the undeniably ingenious Nina Simone being an artist to an activist after the bombing. This awe-spiring production that deals with segregation, between whites and blacks, also shined a light on the segregated behavior within the black race and how women of color need to learn to accept their differences and unite despite how society negatively pitted them to view each other.
Through her courageous and fierce music, Nina created powerful anthem songs that made you feel her anger over the bombing and segregation such as "Mississippi Goddam," "Old Jim Crow," and "To Be Young, Gifted and Black" which earned her an essential voice for the civil rights movement.
Nina Simone: Four Women is one of the best performances in 2019 and sets the bar for all plays. The women in this play are magnificent. Distraught or despair, they proudly showed the strength of the black woman and the power they possess to change humanity's view of their blackness.
Let's Play ‘Highly Recommend' Nina Simone: Four Women at Northlight Theatre where you can dwell if only for 100 minutes no intermission about the woman behind the music.
Northlight Theatre continues its 2018-19 season with
Nina Simone: Four Women
Written by Christina Ham
Directed by Kenneth L. Roberson
Featuring Melanie Brezill, Sydney Charles,
Deanna Reed-Foster, Ariel Richardson, and Daniel Riley
January 24 – March 2, 2019
Filed under: ChicagoNow