“I wish I knew how – how it feels to be free…”
In this Fringe First award-winning sensation, Black is The Color of My Voice, an ode to a jazz legend and civil rights activist, Nina Simone, I realised I was witnessing a one-woman show like no other.
With moments of haunting surrender, this show briefly captures how an artist can be entirely consumed by their art. Written and Directed by Apphia Campbell (and first premiered in 2013) the story aims to understand the woman behind the music with a new sense of authenticity, and has made waves with sell-out seasons in Shanghai, New York, Edinburgh and London’s West End.
Following the untimely death of her father, this window into Nina’s story is told through minuets and memories found in an old suitcase as she relays her loves and losses to her father’s framed photo. With a coming of age story of a child-prodigy from a classical pianist to an activist and impassioned jazz singer-songwriter, details of her interpersonal pin points really shone; Her father-daughter relationship being the woven structure encasing the story, her first love in its purity being her musical stimulus, and later, her abusive fiancé embodying how the world began to mis-use her unique power as the voice of the civil rights movement.
One element that had crossed my mind was, how could you begin to imitate a voice as distinctive as Nina’s? – and the answer was of course to embrace the immediate inspiration as well as the authenticity of the performer representing the multi-faceted star. As Florence Odumuso’s syrupy alto tones melted into some iconic favourites, her crisp and unpinned vibrato filling a void only Nina’s could - it was as if a match had been struck. It felt as though Odumuso's presence and blossoming self-assurance made strides as the story progressed.
Though the full-size Playhouse theatre (notably packed for this one-night-only touring show) seemed to engulf the space between scenes at times, I was intrigued to see a typical Fringe-theatre-style staged production take it on, even if that intimacy was sometimes lost in moments.
In her last emotional redemption, Odumudo’s Nina reached a stunning pinnacle as she reached out her hands to feel the touch of her father in spirit and filled the auditorium with her Feeling Good - flying high, I knew how I felt – and so did the standing ovation. This is what music can do.
Catch this show as it flies around the country for a limited run this spring.