Nina Simone: Four Women [Musical Review]

Nina Simone: Four Women is a musical that centers around the legendary singer Nina Simone. While exploring her political activist interests, Simone transitioned from a musician-for-hire into a poignant songwriter. Modern-day playwright Christina Ham combines this time in the singer’s life with the setting of a bombed-out Alabama’s 16th Street Baptist Church to set the stage for a powerful, one-act, theatrical production.

In the song, Four Women, Nina Simone writes about three very different black women: Aunt Sarah (played by Theresa Cunningham in the play), Sephronia (Toni Martin), and Sweet Thing (Felicia Curry). Along with Simone (Harriet D. Foy), these three women become the central characters in Ham’s play, and each interaction is filled with raw passion and emotion. However, it is Simone’s conversations with each of the women that energize every single scene. As Simone learns about the lives of each character, she reveals her rich history, and her real-life experiences further color Ham’s words.

Nina Simone: Four Women is a musical every Nina Simone fan should see. Christina Ham does a beautiful job of writing relatable characters without allowing them to become outdated stereotypes. The story is compelling, the music is straight from Simone’s catalog, and the cast flawlessly embodies each of their characters.

At the heart of the play is a wonderful review of Simone’s most popular hits. Songs like Sinnerman, To Be Gifted Young and Black, Mississippi Goddam!, and Four Women remind audiences just how unique and talented Simone was.

Please do yourself a favor and see this production at The Arena Stage before it leaves at the end of December. The story and music are well worth your time and attention, particularly if you are a fan of Nina Simone.

Still haven’t had your fill of Simone’s music? Watch one of my favorite live productions of the song Four Women (not the musical) performed by Lisa Simone, Dianne Reeves, Lizz Wright, and Angélique Kidjo:

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