BWW Interview: Director/Choreographer Devanand Janki and LITTLE GIRL BLUE-THE NINA SIMONE MUSICAL at George Street Playhouse
The world premiere of Little Girl Blue - The Nina Simone Musical is a powerful new show that explores the life of American icon Nina Simone, as told through her own words and groundbreaking music. It will kick off 2019 at George Street Playhouse (GSP) in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
This production takes the stage under the vision of Director/Choreographer Devanand Janki. He is the Artistic Director of "Live & In Color," a company that develops new plays and musicals that promote and celebrate diversity and inclusivity.
The show is written by Laiona Michelle, who also stars as Nina. It reveals a life in-between the black and white keys, a journey from classical piano child prodigy to the High Priestess of Soul, told through the beloved songs of Nina Simone.
Broadwayworld had the pleasure of interviewing Devanand Janki about his career and the upcoming show at GSP.
Devanand Janki is an award winning director and choreographer based in New York City. His credits include, Off-B'way: Zanna, Don't! (Winner Lortel, Callaway and GLAAD Awards), Junie B. Jones (Lortel nom.), Henry and Mudge (Lortel nom.), The Yellow Brick Road (Callaway nom.), Skippyjon Jones (Lortel Nom.), This One Girl's Story, Cupid and Psyche, Love and Real Estate and Romantic Poetry (MTC).Lincoln Center: Amahl and the Night Visitors, Babes in Toyland and Anything Goes in concert (Choreo. Assist.); 9 years as Artistic Assoc. for BC/EFA's Broadway Bares. Regional Theatre: The Wings of Ikarus Jackson, Barrio Grrrl! (Kennedy Center), Rent, Xanadu, Rocky Horror Show (Hangar Theatre). As a performer Dev has appeared on Broadway in Cats, Miss Saigon, The King and I and Side Show and tours of West Side Story and A Chorus Line. He is the Artistic Director of Live & In Color, which develops new plays and musicals that celebrate diversity.
With the incredible body of work he has created throughout his years in the industry, we wanted to know what inspired Devanand to begin a career in theatre. "It all started with my 5th grade production of The Wizard of OZ. It was the production my class put on for all our parents. I directed, choreographed and also starred as Scarecrow. It was all so silly, but at the time I was so proud."
However, his formal training and education would come through the years he spent watching and working with professionals. "Two people who started me on my journey were Stan Ware, the General Manager of Alberta Ballet Company, and Karen Ware, my ballet teacher. They really sparked my love for musical theatre." His dance background launched Devanand to the Broadway stage where he would go on to perform for nearly 2 decades before deciding to transition to become a director and choreographer.
Moving on to the show, we asked Devanand what were some of the challenges of directing Little Girl Blue-The Nina Simone Musical. "Nina Simone's life is so vast and rich. There are so many wonderful stories, but in creating a narrative and structure for this show, it's about honing in and finding the true essence of this piece. The show is not a biography, rather it's a theatrical piece about Nina's emotional journey."
When asked about working with writer and star, Laiona Michelle he says, "it's heaven. She is so incredibly smart and creative. Her work makes for a beautiful, visceral experience, it's going to be an unexpected evening of theatre."
This is the first time Devanand has worked with GSP. "It's such a joy. Everyone at the theatre and on the production team has been incredibly professional and inspiring. They make you feel right at home."
One of our favorite questions to our interviewees is if there is anything, absolutely anything they want Broadwayworld readers to know. "For me personally, this is a passion project. The show came out of a theatre company that I established less than 4 years ago, and it has a very special place in my heart. We have been working closely for nearly 2 years to develop and refine what the show is and how we tell this story in a way that is relevant to today's audience, but also reflective of Nina's own struggles with the times and situations that she experienced in her ultimate quest for happiness and freedom." Devanand hopes that the show will have a future life in NYC, around the country, and around the world. "This is just the beginning for this show, I look forward to seeing where this journey will take us."
To learn more about Live & In Color, please visit: https://www.theatreincolor.org/.
You can also follow Devanand Janki on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
To purchase a George Street Playhouse subscription, for tickets to all shows, and for more information, visit the George Street Playhouse website at https://georgestreetplayhouse.org/ or call the box office at 732-246-7717. The Playhouse is currently located on College Farm Road on the Rutgers University Cook Campus. At the close of their 2018/2019 season the Playhouse will move back to Livingston Avenue in New Brunswick as a resident company of the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center.
Photo Credit: Sharon Cooke