George Street Playhouse (GSP) is dedicated to highlighting the best that American theatre has to offer and its latest production, Laiona Michelle’s “Little Girl Blue–the Nina Simone Musical” is a tour de force by a magnetic writer, who is also the singing and acting star of the show. For those who saw Michelle in GSP’s production of Christopher Demos-Brown’s “American Hero” during the 2017 season, you are in for another brilliant ride.
Nina Simone’s music speaks to both universal and very, very specific pain. Michelle’s paean to that pain touches on the zeitgeist of 1968, as she and her band enter, through sirens and flashing lights, from the back of the house, during a riot. We know that we are in for something very special and, while Michelle began work on this musical some time ago, the wounds in many ways are as fresh today as they were, at that time, for people who are working in a number of ways toward a world better than we have right now.
Michelle’s live band is made up of Musical Director Mark Fifer on keys, Saadi Zain on electric and acoustic bass, and Kenneth Salters on percussion, though in the second act, everyone has a turn at percussion! Director and long-time collaborator with Michelle, Devanand Janki gives us the raw power and the soft, deep soulfulness of the story of a classically tragic hero, who gave all she had, and more, in the name of love and change.
Michelle gives us a sketch of characters, like an artist sketches what she will paint, and through the next two hours, she gives us an oil painting with texture, nuance, and heart-wrenching blood in the mix. She doesn’t become Nina Simone–she channels her! She is Nina’s mother, her father, her piano teacher, her husband Andy, and both the committed, strong activist and, in the second act, the woman whose veneer crumbles at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1976, who then pulls herself back together again. This is award-winning characterization by a diamond chameleon, who gives us not just the two dimensions of a character, but the facets, flaws, and beauty of each person that she illuminates. The dynamism and verve of musicians, who listen and love one another, is a model for us to take when we leave, though the memory of this performance remains long after you leave the theatre.
This is an important project by someone whose destiny is stellar. Laiona Michelle is the real deal and you will never get another chance to be this close and personal with a talent of this magnitude. And *spoiler alert*--take a hanky.
Tickets are going fast, and this show closes on February 24! Visit www.GeorgeStreetPlayhouse.org