Orange County Theatre Reviews

(photo credit: Jenny Graham)

Written by Patrick Chavis

The Civil Rights movement has been captured in numerous plays, films, and media throughout the decades with various levels of quality and production. South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa has produced a stunningly unique and heartfelt production of Nina Simone: Four Women that lets the audience explore the late singer’s psyche and the diverse experiences and views of Black women during the era.

This play follows legendary singer/songwriter Nina Simone on the cusp of changing her entire artistic direction in songwriting. Nina, played by Chibuba Osuala, is trying to write her first protest song, “Mississippi Goddamn.” In the process, she is met by three black women who confront Nina about issues relating to the civil rights movement, colorism, religion, and feminism.

Story:

Structurally, when you break this play down to its bare bones, the show has an excellent setup for dramatic theatrical storytelling. The audience gets to experience the often solitary and self-exposing process of songwriting. The women in this play are individuals, but they also intersect. The writer, in combination with the direction from Logan Vaughn, establishes this connection with delicate elegance. Many musicals get flack for being more show than substance, and some of that criticism is warranted. In other cases, such as this show, the proper writing, cast, and direction can explore deep topics and inject so much energy and passion through the soul of music.

Set:

The play is set in a living room. The set has a wood-paneled floor. Vintage couches and a working piano to the left of the stage. The backdrop has chairs and furniture floating in suspended animation over the top of the set. The set does two things: it provides the actors with an environment to work in and a tone. I didn’t know much about this show, but once I saw the floating chairs and couches, I knew there would be a more abstract quality to this show.

Acting:

When I closed my eyes and listened to Chibuba Osuala sing, I could easily fool myself into thinking that Nina herself was singing right in front of me. Then I opened my eyes, and she resembled Simone as well. With a piano and their voices, these four women project through the entire theater.

The transitions from singing to acting were seamlessly executed. The attitude and style these actresses exuded on stage were incredibly entertaining for the 90-minute run.

Nina Simone: Four Women at South Coast Repertory is a moderately paced, soulful musical with a little bite and some powerful voices.

Great Show! OCR Recommended! 
Review
8.7 Overall
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Story9
Acting9
Set & Design8.5
Costumes8.5
Entertainment8.5
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October 2 – 23,2022

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