The setting should evoke the kind of jazz club in which Nina started her career a smoky sensual location where people would have a drink and listen to great music. For the original production in North Carolina, we used a simple unit set and a rear projection screen. On stage where all the elements needed to create the evening; a piano costume pieces, props, four chairs and a few small tables, microphones, etc. The idea for any setting should first serve the music and the actors. The original production also contained some dance, so that was also reflected in the ground plan. And if you lack space and/or financial resources, then I would argue that the piece would also work just as well with the four performers standing around a grand piano making musical and emotional connections with the audience.
A black baby grand piano
Four hand held or wireless microphones. One functional retro (Sony) 50's microphone on a stand
A few tables and chairs
Some hand props
Perhaps other elements that might be found in a nightclub setting
Sound is very important to the success of SIMPLY SIMONE. Sound reinforcement mattered to NINA SIMONE and it will matter to your audiences. Therefore, like Forever Plaid, SIMPLY SIMONE is intended to be performed using microphones as sound reinforcement. When possible wireless body mics should be used on each performer rather than using stand microphones. In addition to these microphones there can be additional mics used during the production. Nina Simone in particular was skilled at working with a microphone in her concert performances. Depending on the size of your theatre, you may also want to reinforce the piano or stand up bass. My recommendation is to start sound rehearsals as soon as possible and locate the best sound engineer you can find to mix the show during each performance.
Pianist/Musical Director: This is perhaps the most important hiring decision to be made for the production. This person controls almost everything about the production (tempo, style, energy, etc.). The perfect player would be an EXCELLENT sight reader, who not only has played musical theatre productions, but is familiar with the great standards of the 20th century The score, while fully written out, is designed so that an accomplished musician can add his/her artistry to the performance. You need an outstanding player who is capable of managing the multitude of tempo, key and style changes that are written into the score. In many ways, this person becomes a fifth character in the production so look for a great musician who also has an interesting stage personality. In our initial production, this musician also served as Musical Director and conducted the stand up bass player, guitarist and drummer from the piano during performance.
The musical score is constructed in a way that the music almost never stops. It was our intention that dialogue is given underneath solo piano in many of the "narrative sections." It is important the performance appears seamless to the audience. Sometimes one of the Nina’s will sing accapella while another scene is taking place.
The show contains a number of dance opportunities for the cast. Dance is a wonderful element and adds much to the production. The choreography should have an ethnic and/or African feel to it and should come out of character. Any dance created should appear natural and spontaneous. The choreography should posses class and style and look completely effortless. Also, never be afraid to let people stand still in a spotlight and "sell the song."
Character, theme, and style:
Each of the four characters is unique. Each actor represents a different yet distinctive aspect of Nina Simone’s personality (see the character descriptions). Yet, the actors are also playing themselves. It is important that they feel comfortable enough to bring their own experiences to their role. Remember that no one in the cast should make any attempt to imitate Nina Simone. The show is not about imitation but rather is a celebration of Nina’s unique talent, political activism, and the incredible music that she wrote or covered in her concerts and recordings.
Whatever you do, do not let anyone do an imitation of Simone! That is a sure fire ticket to disaster. What is important is to have everyone connected to the production listen to as many of Simone’s recordings as you can get your hands on. Then get the performers to "channel" what they feel and hear from those recordings. You are after the essence, style, and personal way Nina Simone interpreted a song, not an exact duplication of her performance. The music is always your guide and the arrangements your anchor. Cast great singers and then have them perform these songs with style and grace. Listen to her daughter’s fantastic new recordings of her mothers work at www.simonesworld.com and you’ll see what I mean.
Do not allow actors to ad-lib lines to the audience or add additional dialogue. Do not add any additional songs. Summerwind Productions only licenses the songs contained in the Simply Simone script/libretto.
It is recommended that you do not use any recorded music of Nina Simone during pre show or intermission.
Let each of the characters unique voice guide you. This act is less formal. Allow for movement.
African influenced costumes with a more sophisticated feel. Must allow for dance
The design should allow for as many different looks as possible. This production lends itself easily to the use of dramatic specials, gobos and break-up patterns. Two follow spots are recommended. All lighting should be more theatrical than realistic and evoke mood rather than place.
While many people may not know much about Nina Simone’s personal history they will recognize and respond to the wonderful songs she wrote and recorded. In your advertising, you may use any song title contained in the show. You may also use the words "The Music of Nina Simone" when using the Simply Simone title. Remember, you do not have authorization or permission to use Nina Simone’s picture or likeness to advertise the production. SWP does not authorize you to use any copyrighted images of Nina Simone. Simply Simone is NOT authorized or endorsed by the Nina Simone Estate.