The power and poise of a 20th century cultural icon is brought to brilliant life by Apphia Campbell in Black is the Color of My Voice, a deeply moving mix of music and theatre. Intelligent narrative choices and a resonant performance from an exceptional talent make for a dazzling exploration of the life and times of the prodigiously talented and often troubled musician, Nina Simone.
The power and poise of a 20th century cultural icon is brought to brilliant life by Apphia Campbell
Campbell, who also wrote the play, has elected to avoid a straight retelling of the story of Simone. The audience is presented not with Nina, but with Mena Bordeaux, a woman alone in a stripped down room conducting a one way conversation with her late father. It’s a deft artistic sidestep, allowing Campbell to “free the actress to use her voice in its most authentic and powerful state” and escape the pressure of trying to impersonate the unique.
Bordeaux is the lens through which the life of a musical genius is explored, and like her real-world counterpart she leads an existence which is sometimes sweet but all too often bitter. As she continues her unrequited conversation, formative events from her life are explored in words and song. There is the innocent joy of a child prodigy embracing music, and the sweet sorrow which lingers after young love fades.
There’s also fear and anger, with domestic abuse and the grinding oppression of racism injecting fear and anger into the life of a young woman growing up in a deeply divided and febrile America. Though the violence of individuals and society weigh heavy on Bordeaux she meets every challenge with irrepressible artistic power. A litany of harrowing moments are processed and balanced by songs tracing the well-worn path from Gospel to Blues via a far less trodden diversion through classical music. These songs are performed expertly by Campbell who shows tremendous control and versatility in her singing.
By the end of the play, the many sorrows of Mena’s life are redeemed spiritually and artistically through music, with a powerful rendition of Feeling Good. It’s a powerful denouement, even if it can’t completely dispel the righteous anger which much of the rest of this excellent drama inspires.