Nina Simone:Four Women
Berkshire Theatre Group
The Unicorn Theatre, Stockbridge, MA
It’s not often that one word can capture the essence of a theatrical evening. The word most often overheard as the audience left Berkshire Theatre Company’s production of Nina Simone: Four Women, on stage at the Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge, MA until Sunday, September 5 … was “brilliant.”
Like any well-cut diamond, the word “brilliant” has many facets and many edges. The cast that director/choreographer Gerry McIntyre has selected and nurtured through rehearsals and onto the performance stage is breathtakingly talented with energy so focused that the prospect of the regimen of regular performances is daunting. McIntyre was the choreographer that brought his talent to last season’s breakthrough performance of Godspell and in Nina Simone: Four Women, the brilliance continues.
The setting for the musical is the scarred interior of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL shortly after the explosion that killed four young girls. The conversations, the outbursts, the searing revelations and the eventual efforts at unified sisterhood are imagined, based on the songs of Nina Simone … herself a supremely talented, if troubled singer/composer whose career earned her the unofficial title “the High Priestess of Soul.”
In the title role, Felicia Curry is explosive. A major force in the Washington, DC theater world, she brings an intensity to the role of a performer emerging as a civil rights advocate that commands the stage with every word, every movement, every song. She is … not to overuse the term …”brilliant.”
And, that designation is echoed by the three women who join her on stage and bring their estimable talents to the roles of three very different women … women of widely divergent backgrounds who are suddenly thrown together in the aftermath of the Birmingham tragedy.
Darlesia Cearcy (Aunt Sarah) has appeared in several Broadway productions, toured internationally, appeared in an impressive list of network television programs and so captures the strength of her character that her interaction with Felicia Curry’s Simone is the backbone of the play. She has an extraordinary voice and uses it to reinforce her foundational role as a woman who has learned to deal with what life has given her.
Sasha Hutchings (Sephronia) is one of those elite performers who seems to move effortlessly from Broadway (original cast of Hamilton) and television (Blue Bloods) to teaching (Arthur Miller Foundation) to regional theater without missing a step. One of the many themes running through Nina Simone : Four Women is the prickly relationships of the implied social classes of the characters. Hutchings Is disarming in the way she destroys the social divides by relating the tragedy of her character’s own struggle.
Finally, there is “Sweet Thing” portrayed with elegant brashness by Najah Hetsberger who appeared in last season’s Godspell with her show stopping rendition of All Good Gifts. Her talent has not gone unnoticed as she will begin a Broadway National Tour this fall and take her estimable talent “on the road.”
Nina Simone: Four Women is anything but yawn-worthy “straw hat theater” fare. It is gritty, challenging, revealing, electric, elegant, painfully relevant, layered with topics that demand our attention … and an evening worthy of the attention of anyone who agrees with director/choreographer McIntyre that in a world reeling with chaos, “you just need to take the first step. Or write the first note.”
The production is, in a word, “Brilliant.”
Tickets of Nina Simone: Four Women may be purchase online at BerkshireTheatreGroup.org or by calling the box office at (413) 997-4444.