In a piece by award-winning playwright, Neil Cole, Ruth Rogers-Wright plays Nina Simone, the singer and voice of the civil rights movement, exploring her relationship with black activist, Lorraine Hansberry, played by Zuleika Khan. It’s a strong performance with great vocals.
Brixton born and raised jazz songstress, Rogers-Wright, who “ran away” to Melbourne some 18 or so years ago, explores the music of Simone from 1958 to 1965 – the period during which she went from popular jazz, blues and folk singer to become “the voice of the civil rights movement” in the United States.
The play, part of the Universal Arts Festival programme, focuses on the developing friendship with Hansberry, playwright and black activist, famous for writing A Raisin in the Sun, who persuades Simone to become active in the civil rights movement. Although initially reluctant, Simone ascends to greatness with her activity and the songs of the movement she would perform, many of which she wrote.
We are treated to Rogers-Wright singing Simone’s popular songs including My Baby Just Cares For Me and songs of the civil rights movement, including Young, Gifted and Black, written in memory of Simone’s late friend Hansberry. Rogers-Wright may not hit all of the notes all the time but nonetheless, she sing with a self confidence and cool composure.
Following the end of the play, Rogers-Wright takes her applause out of character, with her vibrant red dyed hair. Offering the audience a tribute poem/prose piece she wrote for her heroine, which she performs in a rap/spoken word style, this is a fitting end to a beautiful, powerful and soulful production.