“Nina Simone: Four Women” – Arizona Theatre Company

Theater Review – March 27, 2022


Arizona Theatre Company, Center Stage, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

Songstress Nina Simone brought much more to her original songs and classic pop renditions.  So Arizona Theatre Company’s “Nina Simone: Four Women” is not just the typical glitzy but superficial jukebox musical we’ve come to expect as Broadway struggles to find new material.  The Simone tribute intersperses her racial and political thinking between the tunes as the script reveals just how violated the singer became for her revolutionary thoughts.  This brilliant Simone exploration is amazingly timed as the local production comes after the unforgivable treatment Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson received at her Congressional examination.

Don’t fret, though, because the show entertains with several soul-searching renditions of Simone’s politically charged tunes as it explores her thoughtful thinking.  Exquisitely crafted by playwright Christina Ham, the show inserts Simone’s beliefs and feelings about racial and social injustice between the pulsating songs that Simone used to intensify her strong beliefs.

Ham utilizes Simone’s political struggles to imprint just how miserably this great Black singer was treated by society and how Simone didn’t want her equality struggles to be ignored or forgotten.  Simone’s political motivations are intertwined with the songs as she bounces her opinions and ideas off three divergent Black women who understand racial injustice differently as they realize how their thinking is similar.

The women include Sarah, a domestic, Sweet Thing, a prostitute, and Sephronia, a chip-on-her-shoulder activist.  Piano player Sam accompanies the women on rafter-ringing harmonizing on some of Simone’s biggest musical triumphs.

The wonderfully rich, musically stylish tribute, runs the gambit of Simone’s singing career that morphed into a political expose as times changed and Black artists saw the need to become more political to get messages across to fans who avoided or downplayed Black slams.

Tiffany Nichole Greene’s powerful staging sets up the stirring musical documentary.  Candace Thomas’ Nina is a pulsating and invigorating portrayal that captures Simone’s singing along with her stalwart beliefs in fairness and equality.  Deidra Grace’s Sarah understands the biases of the people she works for but grows as she realizes how the tawdry treatment is used to discriminate.  Kia Dawn Fulton’s Sweet Thing begins to understand how abused she is as she uses her body to make a living.  Katya Collazo’s solicitous Sephronia learns that her blunt attitude about inequality may gain more support with a softer approach.  Dante Harrell’s Sam adds great flourish with his upbeat piano accompaniment.

“Nina Simone: Four Women” is a moving and entertaining show that opens up the evils of discrimination, biases, and hatred and how they have no place today.  “Nina Simone: Four Women” plays through April 10.  Order tickets online at www.atc.org. or call 1-833-ATC-SEAT.

Grade: A