NINA SIMONE: FOUR WOMEN Comes to People's Light This March
People's Light presents Nina Simone: Four Women, a new music-filled play featuring hits like "Sinnerman," "I Loves You Porgy," and "To Be Young, Gifted, and Black" performed by an all-star female cast. The play opens on legendary songstress Nina Simone in the moment she learns of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, the event that shifted her career from nightclub singer to Civil Rights activist. Nina Simone: Four Women makes its regional premiere on the Leonard C. Haas Stage from February 27 through March 31. Tickets range from $30-$50. To purchase, call 610.644.3500 or visit www.peopleslight.org. People's Light is located at 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, PA 19355.
On April 16, 1963, jazz singer Nina Simone receives news that four young Black girls - Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carol Denise McNair - were killed in a church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. Consumed by grief and rage, Nina turns to her piano and pours out her first protest anthem. As she writes, she imagines herself in the rubble of the 16th Street Baptist Church and conjures three women in her mind, personifications of Black female archetypes named in her song "Four Women." Aunt Sarah, Sephronia, Sweet Thing, and Nina herself wrestle with the call to activism, pain of colorism, and the power of Black womanhood in their musical journey through this pivotal moment of change.
Playwright Christina Ham was commissioned by Park Square Theatre in St. Paul, MN to develop a play about "The High Priestess of Soul." Knowing that she did not want to write a biopic or jukebox musical, Ham chose to focus on a transformative moment in Simone's career, the shift from artist to artist-activist. "Nina Simone felt very strongly after the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church and the murder of Medgar Evers that her music needed to change direction. Her people were fighting in the streets for their rights, and her old music did not reflect that struggle," Ham explains.
"This play shines a light on the black women who were often marginalized and forced into the background -even though we were the backbone of the Civil Rights Movement. The bombing left an indelible mark on Nina and all of us. My mother's family attended the 16th Street Baptist Church, so the play is very personal for me."
Christina Ham and Director Hayley Finn have known each other for over a decade and collaborated on many of Ham's plays, though this is Finn's first time at the helm of Nina Simone: Four Women. "We have a creative shorthand that we've established that allows me to trust Hayley to see that the vision of my play is not only executed, but expanded upon," Ham says. "I'm so happy that the People's Light community will be able to get to know her work."
"Christina has created a beautiful play," Finn adds. "I love Nina Simone's music and this play takes a spiritual and creative deep dive into her process as an artist. She had a powerful voice and a distinct vision for what music could do. I hope the audience will walk way feeling the power of Nina's music and ask questions about where the country is now. The music, the poetry of the language, and the power of the play have the potential to be transcendent."
People's Light Producing Director Zak Berkman agrees. "This play is a vital call to unity and harmony amidst divisiveness and destruction. There's no better time for us to be immersed in the awakening power of Nina Simone's music. We feel fortunate to be doing that with such a wonderful team of people."
This captivating and vocally commanding ensemble features Regina Marie Williams in her People's Light debut as Nina Simone. Miche Braden (The Devil's Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith, 2013) returns to Malvern as Sarah. Also making their People's Light debuts are Tsebiyah Mishael Derry as Sweet Thing, and Natalie Wachen as Sephronia, with Mala Waldron on piano.
Hayley Finn directs at People's Light for the first time, along with Music Director Sanford Moore. Designers making their People's Light debuts are Scenic Designer D'Vaughn Agu, Costume Designer Natalia de la Torre, and Lighting Designer Oona Curley. Robert Kaplowitz (The Secret of Sherlock Holmes, The Return of Don Quixote) returns to design sound. Jeannine Osayande serves as choreographer. Resident Stage Manager Kate McSorley Fossner stage manages. Resident Dramaturg Gina Pisasale dramaturgs the production, assisted by People's Light Cutter/Draper Leigh Paradise.
Nina Simone: Four Women previews Wednesday, February 27; Thursday, February 28; and Friday, March 1 at 7:30pm. The play opens on Saturday, March 2 at 8pm and runs through Sunday, March 31. Standard single tickets start at $40. $30 preview tickets are available February 27-March 1. For tickets, call the Box Office at 610.644.3500.
Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more. For more information or to purchase group tickets, call Group Sales Associate Kelly Benedict at 610.647.1900 x111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.